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Elizabeth Brooks, Executive Director of Moncus Park, joined Discover Lafayette to discuss construction underway at the park. Much has happened since our first interview with EB in 2017, and as their website, moncuspark.org/the-park/ says, the park is well on its way to becoming a world-class central park for all of Acadiana to enjoy! The park is slated to open to the public Thanksgiving 2021.
Elizabeth, affectionately known as “EB,” gained local renown in 2005 when she was a student at UL – Lafayette. She and her friend, Danica Adams (the last person to live on the horse farm), learned that the 100 acre UL Horse farm tract was threatened by a potential sale by the university to a commercial developer. Unable to accept that this treasure in the middle of Lafayette could possibly ever become just another strip mall, the two launched a successful community-wide campaign to save the property; thousands of local residents became involved, aided by the rise of social media during that same time.
After the horse farm was ‘saved,’ EB left Lafayette to earn graduate degrees in Community & Regional Planning as well as Urban Design earned from UT in Austin. She noted how she had never realized that urban planning was even a career option until she met Mike Hollier of LCG’s Planning Department when she was working to save the horse farm space.
EB’s passion is in seeing a city crafted to maximize the ultimate quality of life and she said, “The impact of the built environment and infrastructure on people’s quality of life and day-to-day experiences is something we should take more control over and strive to be world-class. It doesn’t just happen.” As an example she noted, “Some of the streetscapes we have built (here in Lafayette) are inhospitable.”
It turns out that many other people value quality of life here too. EB spoke of the momentum that was gained during the Save the Horse Farm campaign. “We valued harnessing that same energy to create the master plan. We hired a firm to create the master plan that didn’t have a preconceived notion of what the park should be, one that would listen to the people. People felt heard. It was empowering to be able to shape our community.”
The site of Moncus Park is long and narrow and is one of the old “long lots” granted once Lafayette was settled. It is very quiet once you enter, as little of the land fronts onto Johnston Street. While it made little sense to utilize the space for commercial development, it is a wonderful place for a park with its live oak trees and ravines; the master plan focuses on honoring the beautiful and natural features while enhancing the topography by adding a new four-acre lake and hilly areas.
$60 million is the projected amount needed to be raised to fully realize the goal of making Moncus Park a world-class facility. A future site to host weddings, music, and community events, as well as a planned botanical garden, Louisiana-themed playgrounds and interactive splash pad, a Treehouse Masters treehouse, amphitheatre, Veterans Memorial, dog park, and promenade (the park’s main walking and jogging trail offering soft surfaces kind to runners) all cost money. And except for the $6.8 million paid by the City of Lafayette to purchase the ground from UL-Lafayette, all is being funded via private donors.
The late Jim Moncus was the first person EB called upon for financial support. She reminisced about his generosity, saying, “He looked over the list of naming rights, saw the top figure and said, ‘I’d like to get involved.’ It was a huge gift, a shot in the arm for fundraising efforts, and provided the minimum of what was needed to begin construction of Phase I of the park.
Phase I cost $10 million and includes two miles of trails, a four acre lake lined with gardens, a dog park, infrastructure for vehicular traffic, and a parking lot with a rain garden in the middle.
Phase II is a $5 million project and includes the amphitheatre (sponsored by IberiaBank/First Horizon), a Louisiana-themed treehouse by Treehouse Masters, two age-appropriate playgrounds (sponsored by Ochsner Lafayette General), a Veterans Memorial, and a Louisiana-themed splash pad with interactive water features with a giant alligator and pirogue.
Groundbreaking on the Veterans Memorial was held April 20, 2021. This feature is designed to educate the public about wars involving the U. S., all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Space to seat up to 700 will provide a great venue for military weddings, memorial ceremonies, and holiday events. Veterans were engaged in the design to ensure that the space met the needs of the Veteran community. Interested donors can visit moncuspark.org to make a contribution or purchase a brick paver honoring a veteran.
The Lafayette and Farmers Artisan Market held each Saturday morning, rain or shine, at Moncus Park has been an amazing outreach tool to allow people to see the property and gain appreciation for the resource it offers the community. Run by a separate non-profit board, it opened in June 2013. It has proven to be a boon for Lafayette’s economy and several brick and mortar stores have developed from their origins under a 10′ x 10′ tent at the market, including Bread & Circus, Priya’s J & J Indian Foods, and Tribe Collective. EB shared that people got to quit jobs they didn’t like and follow their passion by selling in a market environment that wasn’t available in Acadiana before the Farmer’s Market opened.
This interview was about making dreams come true and EB stated, “There have been so many times in my life when I’ve successfully manifested what I believe is possible.” While EB’s dream of creating a world-class park in the center of Lafayette may seem like a stretch to most of us, she further stated, “This was not a hard sell to get behind. To think about a beautiful 100-acre vision versus another strip mall being built wasn’t that hard for people to buy into.
Another vision that EB has successfully manifested is her current dream home in Freetown. Back in 2004, a professor challenged the permaculture (sustainable agriculture) students to use the principles they had learned to draw up their dream home. Her sketches included a chicken coop design with roll-up glass doors (similar to a garage door), and a “C” shaped design built around a central courtyard. Fast forward to 2014 when the COURhouse was completed by architecture students under the UL Lafayette Building Institute’s Neighborhood Infill Program: the IND Weekly showcased the home of her dreams which included all the amenities she had sketched years earlier. EB knew that her dream had become a reality. You’ll have to listen to our interview to appreciate the full depth of the meaning of manifestation, but as EB says, “It’s been so serendipitous….both the park and my house are like manna from heaven.
We thank EB Brooks for sharing her talents, for her contributions to raising Lafayette’s quality of life, and for her persistence in making dreams come true.
To learn more about Moncus Park or to donate, please visit https://moncuspark.org/the-park/.