Filed Under:  Local, News

City squandering opportunities for water recreation

31st October 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Mary LaCoste
Contributing Writer

Where do you go for a swim in New Orleans? Rent a hotel room? Crowd out the kids in the few NORD pools? Join a country club? For a city surrounded by water, there are too few places for locals or visitors to go to swim or enjoy water activities during the Big Easy’s notoriously long, hot summers.

Remember the pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park? It had sand beaches, large swimming pools, exciting rides, cool refreshments and entertainment – all summer long. From the top of the Ferris wheel you could see for miles. What is there now? UNO has built on the land and government buildings, including one used by the FBI, are now there preventing any chance of a swim or a beach stroll.

Years after it was closed, locals hoped the fun could be recaptured when a new amusement park was constructed in the outer reaches of New Orleans East. It was put in a swampy area far from cool lake breezes. Last owned by the Six Flags company, its fate was sealed long before Katrina ruined the equipment.

Why can’t a new amusement area with beach, swimming pools and a first-rate water park be developed where it really belongs — on the shores of Lake pontchartrain? The old Lincoln Beach site comes to mind as does the area near the failed gambling casino once located near the Lakefront Airport.

For now, we still have some of the land on Lakeshore Drive for cool relaxation. Stretching east from Bucktown, residents can fish from the seawall, enjoy looking at sail boats, bike, jog or picnic on the pleasant, grassy stretches between the drive and the levee. Yet even these simple pleasures are endangered and access rules keep changing.

The N.O. Levee Board, the agency that provides police patrols and controls the area, is facing ongoing financial and political crises. Soon access for recreation may be limited even more. Hopefully public outcry or pressure from the groups who have campaigned to save our lake and the old lighthouse can help to preserve these public lands for unfettered recreational use.

There are pleasant places on the shores of the lake in Jefferson Parish where boats can be launched and picnicking, walking and jogging on the levee can be enjoyed. Recent flood protection projects by the Corps of Engineers have caused sections to be fenced off however, limiting access there in several places.

While swimming and water sports are not an option along the powerful and swift-moving Mis­sis­sippi River, residents and visitors are able to enjoy viewing it by strolling from Jackson Square to Canal Street and beyond. Visitors and locals love the area and the adjacent lawns. The space is used to advantage for special events like the French Quarter Fest.

It was not always so. In years past there were docks blocking anyone from going to the river’s edge from the French Quarter. Only at Canal Street and the ferry landing could a person get near it. In the 1970s and 80s city leaders led the way to having rotting wharves removed and Moon Walk and Woldenberg Park were constructed in their place. Today they are a pleasant link to the Aquarium, the ferry landing, Spanish Plaza and the River Walk. Enjoyed by many, it shows what can be done.

The Moon Walk was named after the man who was mayor at the time it was built, “Moon” Landrieu. Now his son Mitch is mayor. Perhaps he can follow the footsteps of the outstanding success of riverfront development and champion the needs of the Crescent City for swimming and other recreational opportunities at the lake, in our parks, and other parts of the city.

Both Audubon and City Park need to plan for swimming facilities or even water parks, on their grounds, something much bigger that the fun water area for small children now in the zoo. Each of the parks once had excellent pools before misguided panic at the time of integration led to their closings and may have hastened the end of the pontchartrain Amusement Park as well. We should not pretend this never happened or cite “insurance” or other barriers to filling such obvious public needs.

Too many local children have grown up not knowing how to swim, dangerous in a city surrounded by water. Not all families can afford to spend time on the beaches of Alabama or Mississippi or to drive to Baton Rouge or Gulfport’s water parks. At least young adults can feel sand beneath their feet and find exercise at the beach volleyball establishment near the lake — but even that may not exist for long as it may be expropriated for levee widening.

The citizens of New Orleans deserve to have more ways to enjoy the water around them. Pro­jects to develop warm weat­her recreational op­por­tunities would benefit the economy by creating jobs and by attracting visitors who now avoid vacationing here during our long, sultry summers.

This article was originally published in the October 31, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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