THE HISTORY OF RECREATION DISTRICT #1/ PELICAN PARK
Recreation District #1 is a free standing governmental agency that is governed by a 7 member administrative board. The Recreation District is given their right to exist by the Parish, but is not part of the Parish government, State or City of Mandeville.
How did the park start?
The Park started with a group of dedicated volunteers who dreamed of a place for children to play. In the mid-80’s, the recreation needs of the children in the greater Mandeville area were met by a volunteer group called 4th Ward Recreation. This group of volunteers donated hundreds of hours providing youth sports for the children in the community. Finding fields and gyms for the programs was difficult, but thanks to people like the Moore Family, Our Lady of the Lake Church and the school principals, sites were found. With the increase of people moving to the Northshore, 4th Ward Recreation knew that they would soon need fields of their own.
In 1985, volunteers, lead by Mrs. Sue McGuire, found State owned property just west of the State Hospital that was not being used. The volunteers convinced the State officials and Governor Edwards to lease 50 acres to 4th Ward Recreation Association for a Park. The volunteers held fundraisers and sought corporate donations to fund a construction project, but soon realized that it was a huge task for a non-profit group.
Not to have their dreams of a Park stifled, the volunteers found that the Parish had, many years before, divided the Parish into Recreation Districts. These Recreation Districts had taxing authority and the District serving the greater Mandeville area, was known as Recreation District #1. In 1986,the volunteers requested that the Parish reactivate Recreation District #1. At that time the Parish appointed 5 members to this Board with Mrs. McGuire being elected Chairman. (today, 2 of those original 5 members still serve on the Board).
The new board quickly set out to survey the property and to develop a Master Plan for the proposed Park. Many meetings were held with 4th Ward parents, community groups, etc. to develop a Master Plan. In 1988, a proposal was put before the voters to approve a property tax millage for the construction of a new Park and a second millage for the operation of the Park. The tax millage passed with over 80% in favor.
In early 1990, phase 1 of Pelican Park was opened which consisted of a 2 court gym, 1 soccer field and 5 baseball/softball fields. Phase 2 which consisted of 5 additional soccer fields and two baseball/softball fields was completed in the fall of 1990. All of the fields had hybrid bermuda grass with irrigation and 4 of the fields had lights. The Board of Commissioners were very frugal with the public’s money and chose to build as many fields as possible for the children and later try to add amenities.
When first opened, the Park had 1 full time Director and 2 park crew. Slowly, over the next 3 years, the Park was able to add more parking lots, build concessions/bathrooms, pave the gravel entrance road and light 6 more of the fields.
In 1993, the Board of Commissioners for the Recreation District and staff realized that we would soon be out-growing the present facilities. For the next 2 years, the Board and staff begged and pleaded with the State and the State Department of Health and Hospitals to lease additional acreage to the Recreation District. In 1995, the State leased an additional 160 acres to the Recreation District #1/Pelican Park. The Board turned to the public to request input about what they felt was needed in the expansion project. Numerous community meetings were held. A citizen advisory group, open to any person who volunteered, was established to decide what should be included in the expansion project. A Master Plan was developed by this citizen committee for the complete development of the Park. The recommendations of this advisory group were accepted without change by the Board of Commissioners.
In January of 1996, a property tax millage was put before the voters of Recreation District #1 for the expansion of Pelican Park and the beginning of the development of the Master Plan. The voters approved both the expansion millage and new operation millage by 65%. Funding from this millage paid to pave the roads and develop phase 2 of the Master Plan. Phase 2 consists of a third court that was added to the existing Brown Pelican Gym, the construction of the Castine Center, which is a 46,000 square foot events building (4 basketball courts) which opened in February 1999. In the fall of 1999, 10 new athletic fields, (grey 2, Yellow 1-3, Blue 1-3 and Purple fields 1-3) were opened. All the fields have hybrid bermuda, irrigation and lights. The funding from the 1996 millage paid for these improvements and operations of the new facilities.
In 2002, the Board used operating funds saved and future to build the White Pelican Gym that has two basketball/volleyball courts.
The growth in Mandeville continued and the influx of additional residents to the Mandeville area created very high demand on existing facilities and showed that Phase 3 of the Master Plan needed to be built. In 2004 voters approved a construction millage to build Phase 3. Included in Phase 3 is the Red complex, (3 softball/baseball fields) Gold complex (2 football/soccer fields) and a beginner/intermediate skateboard park. Phase 3 was opened in 2007.
The Board of Commissioners saw the need for the final part of the Master Plan to be built. In 2008 Phase 4 which consists of 6 multi-use practices fields was constructed. The Park used reserve funds and future operating funds (no new taxes to the public) to construct the Silver 1-6 practice fields. The Silver complex has regular turf, lights, parking and a pavilion.
In 2009, the Park built a 9 station commercial batting cages facility known as “The Cages.” The Cages offer slow and fast pitch softball and baseball at a variety of speeds for all ages and abilities. November of 2011, the Board of Commissioners pledged operating money to bond out 4 million dollars for the expansion of the White Pelican Gym. The expansion will consist of two new basketball/volleyball courts. In addition the Park will use the funds to pave the Yellow parking lot in 2012 and to put three course surface treatment on all other parking lots to reduce the dust and remove the gravel. The funding will also cover the replacement of the pathway in Phase 1 and 2 of the Park with work to be done in 2012.
Recreation means many things. For those that do not participate in our organized youth or adult sports, there is a 1.4 mile, 12 station health trail that runs through the park. This health trail, known as the 4th Ward Recreation Health Trail, was made possible due to donations and the Friends of Pelican Park.
The Park has developed a very diverse programming division. The Park offers free and paid classes in all types of activities. Classes include exercise, fitness, crafts, computers, welding, engine repair, stained glass, composting, beekeeping, cooking, self improvement and many, many more. The classes are offered for adults of all ages and for children.
We also offer the opportunity for recreation with our four-legged friends. In May of 2010, due to the grass root efforts of volunteers, the Pelican Bark Park opened. The dog park consists of 4 fenced acres with separate large and small dog areas, benches, doggie and human water fountains, doggie pools and a gazebo.
PELICAN PARK TODAY
Today, Pelican Park serves as a vital part of the community. The Park is 550 acres and consists of 32 athletic fields, a 3 court gym, a 4 court gym, the 46,000 square foot multi purpose Castine Center, paved roads, walking trail, dog park, batting skate park, sand volleyball courts, 18 hole disc golf course and parking for over 1,700 vehicles. In 2019 we had a grand opening of a $1.6 million dollar renovation of the old Green 5 baseball field that is now called The Groves. This newest addition to the Park is sure to be a great place for families, fun and exercise for generations to come.
The Groves includes 8 outdoor lighted pickleball courts. Pickleball is fun for all ages, great for conditioning and is simple to learn. The Groves also includes outdoor fitness equipment, boardwalk, pond, green space and a family fun game area which consists of 2 horseshoe courts, 2 bocce courts and 2 shuffleboard courts. Special thanks to Cycle Construction, the contractor on the project. also visitation and usage of the Park is extremely high. On a typical Saturday, the Park has over 12,000 visitations. The Park has over 1 million visitors a year.
The Park also serves as a large economic generator for the community when events/shows rent the Castine Center as well as when the Park hosts or rents to tournaments in all sports. The Park has hosted many large sport tournaments a year with (50-200 teams) that brought thousands of people to the area for a weekend of sports.
Even though the Park now has almost 37 full time employees, volunteers are still the heart of the Park. Without the dreams of those many volunteers years ago we would not have this amazing Park. Without the volunteers today who serve as Commissioners, advisory board members, age group directors and coaches we would not be able to provide the many sports, events and leisure programs for children and adults in our community.