Friends of City Park is a regional, non-profit organization whose mission is to maintain and increase the value and importance of City Park as a place of natural beauty, culture, recreation and education for the public.
For over 170 years, New Orleans City Park has provided access to abundant natural and cultural resources to residents of the region and tourists from around the world. The Park is home to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, Couturie Forest and Arboretum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Louisiana Children’s Museum, and the largest grove of mature live oaks in the world, some of which are nearly 800 years old.
The Park’s 1,300 acres make it one of the largest urban parks in the United States, and a popular place to fish on the bayou, picnic, experience safe outdoor play, or engage in athletic pursuits—as evidence by more than 16 million visits each year.
City Park’s annual operating budget has been largely derived from self-generated activities. The COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly affected revenue-generating facilities due to restriction closures, highlighted the vital importance of philanthropic support and the continued effort in diversifying revenue streams.
Friends of City Park is vital and important to the Park’s preservation and beautification. As the 501c3 support organization, over the years, Friends has raised millions of dollars to support City Park with capital improvements and beautification needs.
Founded in 1979 by Mrs. Henry J. “Peggy” Read, the organization’s first President, and then Vice President of the City Park Improvement Association, J. Barbee Winston, Friends of City Park was the first fundraising organization for the Park.
More than 40 years has passed and the projects have been endless. The first project was the restoration of the New Orleans Botanical Garden as we know it today – erecting a fence around the Garden and hiring the first fulltime director, Paul Soniat, who is still employed with City Park today.
In August 2005, City Park and the Greater New Orleans area were dealt a devastating blow from Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levee system. Over 90 percent of City Park flooded and the Park incurred 43 million dollars in damages. All records and archives from City Park and Friends of City Park were decimated, operations ceased and 90 percent of the staff was laid off.
Since 2005, City Park has made monumental improvements with the guidance of its Master Plan 2018, including replanting efforts throughout the park, refurbishing classic attractions such as the Botanical Gardens, the Amusement Park, the Casino Building and Storyland. Construction has also been completed on new attractions such as Big Lake, NOLA Bark, the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn, City Putt, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
Friends of City Park sustains its efforts from its robust membership program that offers benefits to members, which stands at 5,000 + members and growing. The membership base expands over 24 states and over 185 Louisiana zip codes. In addition to membership, Friends holds three major fundraisers, which are Lark in the Park, our premier fundraiser; Martini Madness, our wildly popular martini tasting; and Ghosts in the Oaks, our spooktacular family bizarre!
The efforts of Friends of City Park sparked a catalyst for change and started a rebirth of City Park that continues today.