Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Taking Back Bayou View Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Taking Back Bayou View Park

Article excerpt

HOW WE DID IT

How a Gulfport mom led her community in rebuilding its hurricane-ravaged park and playground.

Until recently, there wasn't much good to see in a Gulfport, Mississippi, neighborhood park ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fallen trees, mangled equipment, and accumulating detritus made the park an eyesore, and for the longest time, it seemed as though the community would never see it return to normal. That's when a concerned resident stepped in and mobilized her community to take action. Today, it's a fully equipped, beautifully landscaped gem of a playground and picnic area. It took Andi Oustalet and other Gulfport residents two years to make the dream of restoring Bayou View Park a reality. It wasn't long before the media began taking notice, and most recently Better Homes & Garden magazine devoted the last page of its August issue to Oustalet's efforts. Parks & Recreation was curious to learn how Oustalet's experience could translate into action for other communities. In this interview, she shares her motivation, strategies, and advice for others wishing to take on a neighborhood park project.

After Katrina

I five about two blocks from Bayou View Park. After Katrina, I walked past the park every day - really just to get out and see what had happened all around me. My home had very little damage, but for two blocks in every direction there was at least four feet of water in my neighbors' homes. And the park was destroyed. Over 140 trees had fallen, and the playground equipment was crushed. It wasn't the best park to begin with, but still - it was at least a park. And it is bordered by two elementary schools and a daycare, not to mention numerous residences. As I continued to walk past the park over the months that followed, I noticed that nothing was being done to clean up the mess - and, gradually beer bottles, condoms, and trash were overtaking this place that had the potential to be beautiful. I kept wondering. . .when is somebody going to do something?

I started asking questions about when the park would be fixed - and I was told that the city was overwhelmed with infrastructure problems, and park fix-ups would be a long time in coming, I also learned that the Junior Auxiliary of Gulfport had secured $25,000 from the local Coca-Cola bottling company to assist with the purchase of playground equipment. No one was willing to take on the project, though, because most of the people of Gulfport were struggling with rebuilding their own homes and Uves. I decided to approach the city and see whether I might be able to put that money to work to rebuild Bayou View Park. But first, I invited some neighbors and friends to a meeting at my house- and we got busy.

Getting to Work

Our first thought was to engage the few local businesses around the park. There is a tiny strip mall bordering one side of the park, and I thought that if I could get those businesses to sponsor a t-shirt, we could sell the shirts to raise money and awareness for the project. So, that very first day, the other volunteers and 1 each took one business and went to visit it. We told the business owners our plan, and we offered to put their logo on the t-shirt in exchange for a $500 sponsorship.

In an hour, we had raised $2,500. At that point I knew we had important work to do - and that it was achievable. People in our town needed something happy, something pretty - a place to go to escape the mold and rubble and devastation that had become their world. …

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