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|Restoration park continues to impress|
Since officially opening in 2003, the West Monroe Restoration Park has become a haven for nature lovers, out-of-town travelers and local residents who want to take a quick walk through the woods.
On Monday, Salina Hurff of Meridianville, Ala., spent the afternoon walking her Irish Setter 'Bama' through the restoration park.
Monday's visit was not the first time Hurff had been on the trail. She travels frequently with her husband on business trips and made a stop in West Monroe about one year ago.
"A lot has changed since last year," she said of the restoration park. "It's come a long way."
The city of West Monroe currently is finishing up an $85,000 project to create a new trail through a wetlands area at the park. Handicap accessible ramps are being built as well within the restoration park, which is located behind the Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau off Interstate 20.
The restoration park consists of 70 acres of forest and wetlands with a 1.2-mile trail, which loops around it. Many residents now use it for exercise or a chance to get out and enjoy nature. It's home to more than 400 plant species and different animals, so several local schools also use it for educational field trips.
Sandra Bourgeois, West Monroe's director of parks and recreation, said the park has meant a lot to local residents over the past few years.
"They come here and have lunch and walk the trail," Bourgeois said. "We even had a couple of weddings out here."
Several local elementary schools also bring its students to the restoration park for science projects, such as Earth Day activities. All along the trail there are educational markers detailing certain plant and tree species and the different wildlife people can expect to see.
In 2005, the city added a butterfly screen house to raise butterflies by caring for caterpillars as they make their way through the life cycle and change into the winged creature.
That facility is often used in educational trips by local school children. Hundreds of students visit the park each year on Earth Day to witness the butterflies that have been raised at the restoration park.
Adults, also, have swarmed to the park to see the painted lady butterflies and other wildlife roaming through the park.
"Slowly but surely people have discovered us," Bourgeois said.
West Monroe city planner Bruce Fleming also is amazed at the number of people who utilize the park every day.
He said more and more people are choosing the restoration park to do their morning walks over Kiroli Park and the Glenwood Medical Mall.
Fleming wrote the grant which secured the funding to pay for the new trail, which he believes will attract even more residents.
The new trail will allow walkers to cut through the park instead of having to walk entirely around it.
"You'll be able to do shorter walks and it'll give them more alternatives when walking through the park," Fleming said. "A lot start out, and then give up and turn around and come back. Some can go all the way around it, but this will just allow for shorter trips."
One reason Bourgeois is excited about the new trail is it will take walkers through an actual wetlands area.
"It'll give them the opportunity to observe wetlands up close and personal, and this is a true wetlands area that will eventually evolve and have all the plant and wildlife species that's found in Louisiana wetlands," she said. "We don't really have anything like that in West Monroe right now."
The restoration park is open 24 hours. A West Monroe Police Department substation is housed on site.
"We think it's a good, safe place to be, and it's becoming more assessable," Bourgeois continued. "It's going to become a nice urban island right in the middle of our commerce section."
Once the new trail project is completed, the city will be fully reimbursed through the governor's office of community programs.