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Friends of Lafitte Greenway aiming to expand community programs, safety

The Ohm Well’s Valerie McMillan leads Hot Yoga class last year (via Friends of Lafitte Greenway).

By Claire Byun

Friends of Lafitte Greenway has an abundance of goals for 2017, and most revolve around improving the safety of the greenspace and growing community programs.

The organization held their annual membership meeting Monday night to elect new board members, review 2016 accomplishments and establish goals for the new year. Sophie Harris, executive director, touched on every program and project headed by Friends of Lafitte Greenway and explained how the group plans to expand those programs.

The three biggest goals for 2017, Harris said, revolve around safety and community. Many board members brought up the safety – or lack thereof – of the North Lopez Street bridge, which has been boarded for several years but remains a popular shortcut. Harris said Friends has been working with the city to rebuild the bridge and open more connections across the canal.

The city has funds to rebuild North Lopez Street bridge, but the project has been pushed back several times. The new opening date is sometime in 2018.

“We haven’t had success in speeding up the project, but the biggest priority is making sure there are safe crossings,” Harris said.

Growing the group’s membership and reach is another new year goal, Harris said. The goal is to bump membership from about 290 to 500 people by 2018 and grow local programs, such as Youth Explorers and the community garden.

During the greenway’s first year about 750 people were using the Greenway every day. In October of last year, officials recorded 1058 people using it everyday, and “we’re hoping to keep seeing these numbers go up,” Harris said.

The Youth Explorers program, which takes youth in grades K-8 on excursions into nature in the greenway, served 280 students last year. Officials are hoping to expand that program by partnering with local schools and youth organizations, Harris said.

Harris said she’s working to grow all of Friends of Lafitte Greenway’s programs to draw more people to the greenspace. Officials aim to draw in more people to the yearly Hike the Greenway event – more than 700 people participated last year – and into the ambassador and recycling programs.

“Our goal is to advance the community’s vision of the Greenway,” Harris said.

The group will also continue advocating for local art along the Greenway and offer community fitness courses, such as yoga and pilates. Offials are hoping to introduce themed walks this year so the community can learn more about the history or architecture of the space, and board members advocated for city-led tours of the water pumps.

About 30 people toured the pumping station on N. Broad Street last week, said Nellie Catzen, Friends’ program coordinator. City officials said they’d offer more tours if Friends can get an interested group together.

“If there’s more interest in doing that, we can see about doing that regularly,” Catzen said.

Friends of Lafitte Greenway is also in transition from an being an advocate of the greenspace to a steward of the community, said board chairman Jeffrey Thomas. By offering a plethora of community programs, volunteer days, youth events and economic development input, the Greenway is a true community space.

“No matter if you’re joining one of our programs or just throwing your own picnic, there’s a constantly-open invitation to use the Greenway,” Thomas said.

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