NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A Lionel steam train rumbles around what must be the bustling miniature community of Beckerville.
This year’s redesigned holiday village in the Botanical Garden at Celebration in the Oaks is named for the boss, Bob Becker.
“It’s always been Smallville. And for some reason, I guess because it was my idea to start it, somebody started calling in ‘Beckerville,'” Becker said.
After 19 years at the helm of New Orleans City Park, Becker plans to step down sometime early next year.
Becker is a former city planner and Audubon Nature Institute executive.
Hired away to run this urban oasis, he never dreamed how eventful his tenure would be.
“Yeah, they didn’t tell me that when they hired me," Becker joked. "They didn’t tell me that we were going to be annihilated.”
For starters, floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 knocked out the park’s entire electric grid.
In the months after the storm, a skeleton crew worked to get the park up and running again.
That’s when the importance of this Celebration in the Oaks hit home.
“When everything was dark and there was nothing to do and we managed to pull together a celebration, an exhibit for 19 days in December.”
Becker said it became unthinkable that the park would fail to put on the show.
“Every year, we would try to bring back more exhibits, bring back new exhibits, create new exhibits here so there was always something fresh and exciting,” Becker said.
In those first days and years after Katrina, City Park staff, the board, volunteers and donors put the park back together piece by piece.
“We knew that this area could not recover if the park did not recover," Becker said. "We’re sitting right in the center of it. You could not recover neighborhoods here if right in the middle of the city there was still a facility that was still in ruin.”
Celebration may be its highest profile event, but City Park has been a primary recreation spot for generations.
The largest oak trees were growing 500 years before New Orleans was founded.
Still today, at one mile wide and three miles long, New Orleans City Park ranks as one of the largest urban parks in America.
“It’s an essential part of this city.”