When he was in the sixth grade, UL junior Ooti Billeaud began working on a ramp park for Lafayette. Now at the ripe old age of 21, he has moved the wheels of local government, created the original designs for the park, put together volunteers to build many of the features in it, and is about to see his dream become a reality. ultoday.com spoke with him recently.

Tell us about yourself.

I go to school.  I run my photo business OotiBilleaud.com, I'm trying get that going. I'm doing an internship at The Independent right now. I'm taking 21 hours this semester, so there's not a whole lot of time for other things. I try to get out and ride my bike some.

What are you studying?

I'm majoring in marketing, and minoring in visual arts. In marketing, I don't know what direction I want to go yet. As for the minor, I just wanted to learn more about photography-- I'm mostly self-taught. This is probably going to be my hardest semester, so I'm just trying to stay on top of everything. I'm trying to stay afloat.

You're the driving force behind the new developments at Ron Guidry Park, including a skatboarding/BMX bike ramp park, and the dog park.

I guess it was 4 years ago now, I started working directly with Greg Gautreaux at Parks & Recreation, and Jim Edwards at Public Works. Greg suggested Ron Guidry Park-- everyone still calls it Youth Park-- as a place to potentially build a ramp park. In the meantime, he allowed us to build dirt jumps, with dirt donated by J.B. Mouton, that's my Uncle Popie Billeaud's business. Greg also allowed us to build small ramps on the concrete slab. We've been doing that for years, bringing things in, taking things out, modifying the dirt jumps.

Then less than a year ago, Ciera Dugas with Laffy Bark Park was really pushing hard for a dog park, and I jumped on the band wagon. We met with Greg at the park. Basically, we talked about where the dog park could go, and if it would work with the ramp park and the people. She and I both said, "Yeah," and Mr. Gautreaux thought it was a good idea, too.  They had wanted to do the Bark Park somewhere else, but the neighboring community rejected it.

They've fenced in the dog park, they're about to get more obstacles for the dogs, with a double-gated entry, a little slab, a small pool. They also have a lot of the toys that were brought by locals.

As for the ramp park, right now it's got the bowl, they completed that about two weeks ago. We also have dirt jumps for BMX, and locally-built smaller ramps on the concrete slab.

They haven't opened it yet, we hope it will be open in a week or two. They're waiting to get sod on all the ground, they're pouring a sidewalk, and putting up signage. Other than that, it's open.

How did you get started?

When I was in 6th grade, I started calling and asking the city about it, "Why don't we have a place to ride?"  When I looked in magazines, it seemed like everywhere out of state had at least one, or even numerous concrete parks. I think Oregon has over 50. Las Vegas has I think over 25.

Were your parents encouraging you?

No, I was pretty much just working on it on my own. I'd call every once in a while and ask, "Is there funding for a park this year?" because they had always planned the Wheels Park on University north of I-10, but the project kept getting overbid. So the money they had for it kept getting pulled for other projects.

I started working with them directly about February of my junior year at Lafayette High, almost exactly 4 years ago. First thing I did was I made a presentation to Greg & Jim about ways we could get things going with minimal funds. I made a presentation to the Rotary Club-- I think it was the Northside Rotary Club-- because I wanted an account where we could accept donations. We needed a way to raise money. The thought was at that time, because there's so much red tape with the city, we wanted the Rotary Club to purchase it with the money we raised, and donate it to the city.

So we created an account with them, but funding was unsuccessful. We were trying to get a large donation for naming the park, but we weren't successful.

But just when we were ready to give up, Mr. Gautreaux was able to come up with about $90K, from money he had pieced together slowly over the years.

Most concrete park contractors won't come out for less than $120 to $150K. But there was a company out of Austin who was willing to do a smaller project, they were just getting their name out. Now they're doing parks all over.

One of the two owners of that company is actually from Lake Charles. So we worked with him on a design that would fit our budget. I worked on a concept, and they took the computer-aided design to an engineering firm to get a PE stamp. Then they turned around and sold the design to the city, and the city put it out to bid. The Austin group won the contract, because most companies wouldn't bid on a small project like that.

Are you surprised you were successful?

I always said I would get it done if it was the last thing I would ever do.

Here's the thing:  when I first started working on it, people thought I'd work on it for 6 months and quit. When they saw that I was sticking with it, they decided to work with me. I had the knowledge of what a BMXer and a skateboarder wants to ride.

It also helps that they always wanted to do it, they just never had all the know-how.

So what next?

I'd love to do a half-million to one million dollar park. But I don't know how much time that would take, or how realistic that is.

You said this is the second such park in the state, but there are a number of ramp parks parks. Explain.

Ours is a ramp park, it allows skateboards and BMX. I think every park should. But some of the others just use the name, they call it a ramp park. This one is different because it's truly public, there's no charge to ride it. The only other one like ours is in Hammond.

Talk about the one in Hammond.

People have seriously moved to the small town of Hammond, just to be able to ride that park. Prior to that, I don't think there was anything within 200, or maybe 300 miles or more with anything like that. People actually moved there for the park.

If that doesn't talk about the economic impact, I don't know what does. They only spent about $250K or $350K on it, and they've had a second phase for $100K or $150K more. That's rough estimates. But there are so many people out there using it. It brings in so many people.

There's no other entity that brings in so many people. Maybe that's because it's so new, but every Saturday, the park is packed with kids. How many public basketball courts or baseball parks are packed every Saturday?

Does a ramp park attract college students to a community?

Absolutely. In fact, of the guys that I was riding with in the bowl yesterday, about half of them were college students. The other half were grown men.

Were any of the college students from schools outside of Lafayette?

No, right now it's just UL, but the park isn't officially open yet. I know a lot of our kids go over to Hammond, so I expect kids from other schools will come here, too.