Gov. John Bel Edwards announced today that a coalition of state, local and university officials has been formed to save the six lakes surrounding the LSU campus. The coalition includes the State of Louisiana, the City of Baton Rouge, BREC, LSU, the LSU Athletic Department and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
The governor also announced that the LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation will be in charge of issuing the contracts and will oversee work that includes dredging all six lakes, building a bridge at May Street and building sidewalks and bike paths around the lakes. Funding for the project will come from contributions made by each of the partners and the LSU Foundation has made a request for capital outlay funding for the project.
“The City Park Lakes are a gathering place for our community and, as the algae blooms engulfing City Park Lake indicate, the six lakes are declining rapidly and we can’t put off saving them any longer,” Gov. Edwards said. “The state and our partners are moving with urgency to keep the lakes from turning back into swamps while also creating a jewel of a place that makes all of Louisiana proud. The improvement of the LSU Lakes also represents an economic development opportunity for the community, as enhancements could bring more athletic and student activities to the University. For example, LSU's Rowing team will have the opportunity to host competitions with other schools, including Ivy League universities along the East Coast, because of more conducive weather in Louisiana during the winter months."
To move quickly, the partners have agreed to pay for the next step— creating engineering documents from the master plan so that dredging the University/City Park lakes can commence within 18 months.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s $1 million master plan for the lakes will be the blueprint for saving them. In 2014, the Foundation hired SWA Group to lead land planners, environmental engineers and landscape architects, who engaged the community to write the master plan. The plan alerted residents to a problem not seen. Converted from swamps in the 1930s, the lakes are now less than two feet deep in some places.
The coalition has agreed to create a cooperative endeavor agreement so that the partners can work together and to take the master plan from paper to reality. The partners will use the LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation to manage the work, from bidding for engineering to hiring construction firms for dredging. LSU REFF was chosen because it can speed up implementation of the plan. The organization has deep experience in delivering projects on time, including building the successful Nicholson Gateway mixed-use project that opened last year.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome pledged funding from the MovEBR infrastructure plan to construct separate bike and walking paths around the lakes, ultimately making it safer for pedestrians, runners and cyclists who come from across the parish for exercise, recreation and bird watching.
“Our lakes are a common gathering place for people from across the parish, who go there for the simple joys – walking, talking, seeing pelicans,” said Mayor Broome. “When the lakes project is completed, tens of thousands of motorists on I-10 will see what we already know: the residents of East Baton Rouge care deeply about making their parish a special place.”
The master plan calls for thousands of cypress stumps to be removed during dredging, and University and City Park lakes to be connected by an iconic bridge. With the lakes deeper and linked, boaters and paddleboarders will be able to row from Dalrymple Drive to Stanford Avenue. BREC is responsible for maintaining City Park Lake and a smaller Lake Erie next to it. Additional lakeside amenities, such as a boathouse for renting paddle boats, kayaks and canoes, are also part of the master plan. BREC has existing funding for the maintenance of its two lakes and additional recreational amenities.
“The lakes at City-Brooks Community Park and Milford Wampold Park are two of the most enjoyed amenities in our system. People of all ages and backgrounds co together to enjoy this beautiful area for exercise, relaxation and fun,” said BREC Superintendent Corey K. Wilson. “The leaders who have come together to make this project a reality realize the important recreational, economic and environmental benefits these lakes and parks provide to the current residents of the community, business that consider relocating to the area, and visitors that make our parish a destination of choice.”
LSU, which owns University and three adjacent lakes, expects enhancements of the lakes to offer more outdoor activities for students and to lift enrollment.
“The LSU lakes and Dalrymple Drive are truly a gateway to our university,” said LSU President F. King Alexander. “These improvements will give visitors an unforgettable first impression not just of our campus, but of Baton Rouge as well. Our students, faculty and staff look forward to the opportunities that this project will provide to our community.”
LSU’s Athletic Department recently joined the project as a partner. Implementing the master plan will provide student-athletes with more opportunities for training and exercise, and connecting the two lakes will let the LSU Rowing Club host rowing competitions, including with Ivy League and other East Coast schools that cannot compete because of weather in the colder months.
“The lakes are an iconic part of our city and LSU’s campus and it’s important that we all work together to protect and enhance them in any way that we can,” said LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward. “The experience and beauty they provide is important to our recruits and their families, and an everyday part of our student and student-athlete’s lives. We are happy to be one part of this important community and statewide effort.”