by Doug Ireland

As it stands these days, we don’t hear “better than we imagined” much when discussing new ventures.

Yet city officials in Natchitoches are bursting with pride, and local businesses have reaped the benefits, with the debut of Parc Natchitoches.

The gates swung open for a grand opening Feb. 13, showcasing a 100-acre facility featuring five baseball/softball fields with artificial turf infields designed to drain quickly, avoiding “games cancelled due to rain” except in deluge conditions. The field dimensions are easily adjusted to accommodate baseball and softball teams of all ages.

Across a large parking lot are four natural grass soccer fields, and just behind the right field corner of Championship Field, there is a series of lighted batting cages for warm up or practice. Within a line drive of the opening gate is a half-mile walking track winding into a wooded area, next to the first of three small picnic pavilions, offering electricity and running water. They will sit above a pond already stocked with inquisitive fish.

Already, a steady stream of locals are using the track, sidewalks and soccer fields for walking, jogging and biking, and fitness workouts from the crack of dawn to after dark.

Under development are a dog park, a disc golf layout, a grass volleyball court and, probably soon, if warranted, a beach volleyball court. Surrounded by forested hillsides, it feels natural, not like a concrete complex. As is, still rounding into its full glory, Parc Natchitoches is drawing rave reviews.

“We drove around and thought, ‘this is as well done as the parks we have in Dallas,’ ” said Jill Cantrelle Morrison, a Marthaville native and active NSU alumnae who had husband, Dave, and their two elementary school kids in the car. “It is very impressive.”

Kevin Warner, who has helped bring Mayor Lee Posey’s pet project out of the starting gate in his first year as city recreation director, has heard plenty of praise from visitors.

“We just hosted a tournament with high school age baseball teams and the tournament director already started booking dates next year. He told me this is one of a very few places that can handle high schoolers so efficiently and they would be coming back. That’s a typical reaction.”

As the sod around the facility was taking root, the first big weekend of competition brought 43 baseball teams to town on the final weekend in February.

Business was so robust at hotels and restaurants that at least a couple dining establishments ran into an unprecedented problem.

“A couple places out by the interstate ran out of food on Saturday night,” recalled Warner. “They had never had that happen but it was a great problem to have.”

But the pandemic soon halted operations until May 15. That wiped out the local baseball and softball seasons. Once restrictions were reduced, weekend travel ball tournaments picked up right away. Parc Natchitoches now has weekend events set into mid-November.

“The economic impact is unbelievable. I’ve been told by some businesses that their sales are up 10-15 percent, even with no NSU campus activities and other summer events scaled back or postponed,” said Warner.

Posey, who made his living running a sporting goods store until getting elected as mayor eight years ago, looks like a justifiably proud papa whenever Parc Natchitoches is brought up. It was his vision to create a facility that would enhance the quality of life in his city while giving visitors another great excuse to exit I-49 and head east on La. 6 toward Natchitoches. Just over a mile off the interstate, the City of Lights has another jewel in its collection.

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