Monday, March 31, 2014

Fishing at Lake Cooke

While Cameron Run Regional Park is known to tens of thousands as the home of Great Waves Water Park, it is also the home of Lake Cooke which is enjoyed by many as a fishing site inside the beltway.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Webb Sanctuary

The Webb Sanctuary is a 20 acre property just outside of the Town of Clifton. The property had been donate from the Webb family to Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) almost 15 years ago. In November 2013, ANS gave this property to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA).

This was part of a larger partnership between ANS and NVRPA that has been formed over the last several years. In Leesburg ANS is leasing its Rust Sanctuary to NVRPA long-term. A great deal of this partnership has to do with aligning strengths. ANS has over 100 years of environmental education as their strength, and NVRPA owns and manages over 11,000 acres of parkland in Northern Virginia, which is a strength.

From a practical perspective the use of the Rust Sanctuary is not changing. With ANS the land was open to the public, and the nice trail system and diversity of wildlife habitat made it a great place to visit. ANS also rented the house on site, which helps with night security, and provides someone who can do some on-site mowing and other minor maintenance. Under NVRPA management all the same uses will be in place. From the visitor perspective nothing will be any different.

From a long-term perspective, we would love to see a trail someday that could go from this site and connect with Hemlock Overlook Regional Park and the greater Bull Run/Occoquan Trail System. That vision is years (maybe decades) off, but with the addition of the Webb Sanctuary the connection to the 4,000 acres, and 19 miles of trails that NVRPA owns on the banks of the Bull Run and Occoquan Rivers is a natural one to hope for.

Entrance Drive

Interpretive Sign

Rental House

Trail Signs

Paul Gilbert, NVRPA, Anne Webb, former owner,& Lisa Alexander, ANS

Park Performance Featured at All Staff Meeting

Every year around this time we have the annual 'All Staff Meeting' at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This is one of the few opportunities that we have to come together from facilities spread across over 50 miles and review the performance of the last year, and look ahead to the season to come.

The meeting saw presentations form every department in the organization. One of the many great things was to hear the connection to our strategic plan that is integrated into everyone's thinking. We are a remarkable goal oriented organization, and the results show this focus. We are adding new parkland, creating innovative programs that engage the public about nature, history and more. We are expanding operations, developing our customer oriented focus, and growing our enterprise operations.

NVRPA is among the very best park agencies in the nation on just about every level of measurement, and it is because of a great Board, and the best staff that any organization could hope for.

One of the high lights this year were a series of reports from each of our operational team leaders. These are committees that focus on similar operations that exist at multiple locations like: camping, waterparks, shelters, summer camps, and event venues.

Anna Cote presents on the Event Venue Committee
Todd Benson received recognition for his 20 year of full time service, and as he pointed out there was another 6 years of part time service.

Todd Benson Reflecting on 20 years of service

One of the highlight of this annual meeting are the employee achievement awards. Each year a different cross-functional team reviews and awards nomination that come from other staff. It is a great way to celebrate some wonderful success stories from the year.

Employee Achievement Awards:

In all the photos from left to right is: Stella Koch, Vice Chair, Brian Knapp, Chairman, Award Recipient, Paul Gilbert, Executive Director, David Pritzker, Alexandria Board Member, & Dan Kaseman, Loudoun County Board Member

Johanna Vanness

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Johanna was a dedicated performer during the Festival of Lights as the Light Show Technician. This position required a self starter and independent worker who could take on a variety of complicated tasks to keep this signature event running smoothly. Johanna handled this task with pride and great results in often less the ideal weather conditions.

Johanna Vanness
Chris Wright

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Chris consistently displays a willingness to do what it takes to accomplish the job at hand which often can mean arriving early or staying late. Chris assists in the maintenance and care of all facilities within the park with a great attitude and pride in the work being performed.

Brad Jackson

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. Brad’s quick transition into the management of our instituted water policies at Fountainhead has continued to allow those who enjoy the park to do so in a safe manner, including those taking part in our ever growing paddle tour offerings. Another area of note with regards to safety is the Brad’s work with users and contractors on the use and design elements of the park’s extensive mountain bike trail network.

Brad Jackson

Doug Radoye

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. By its nature, Doug’s position is one that must operate with a “safety first” approach, but Doug takes his work beyond that with a great understanding of facility needs. Doug has an ability to develop sound and safe remedies to get a multitude of challenging tasks accomplished. An example of this is Doug’s work on Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights setup. With light displays within arms length of the public, Doug worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the public and staff.

Doug Radoye

Paul McCray

has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Paul stepped into one of NVRPA’s newest properties and quickly brought it up to NVRPA standards while transforming it into a successful and highly sought after outdoor event venue. Building on its existing reputation, Rust has continued to exceed budget expectations.

Paul McCray

Donny Wensinger

has achieved recognition in the area of Innovation. Donny’s working knowledge of waterpark operations and his ability to develop new ideas and operational strategies has been exceptional. Developing a focused approach on improving sales and overall facility marketing of Great Waves will grow our business and the bottom line.
Donny Wensinger
Matt White

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. Safety is often the first course of business for the facilities Matt oversees. Of particular note is Matt’s management of the mountain bike trails addition of a new “Black Diamond Loop.” Matt worked closely with the designers to ensure a safe course, and with county safety personnel to create a management plan for incidents that may occur on the trail.

Matt White
David Garcia
has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. David continues to provide the exceptional programs the Roving Naturalist program has become known for, but has created a focus on additional unique experiences. Expanding an already great program base helps our visitors find their own personal connection, whether it be on the water or in the woods.
David Garcia
Frank Basye
has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Frank’s performance during this past unforgiving winter included extended shifts that often began during the overnight hours and lasted until the job was complete. He accomplished this with a great attitude and a “get it done” mentality. Frank also consistently displays an ability to assume roles outside of his normal duties such as carpenters helper and float driver for the NVRPA parade float, filling vital needs across our CM crew.

Diana Lancaster

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. In the absence of full time staff Diana assumed a leading role in reconciliation of general and credit card accounts. Diana’s can do attitude and willingness to pitch in with duties above and beyond her normal tasks showed her tremendous work ethic and value as a team player.

Diana Lancaster

Charlie Anderson

has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Charlie’s work to help open facilities after the heavy snows of winter were exceptional and often required extended shifts and working through the night. Charlie remains a go to employee to get these tasks accomplished.

Charlie Anderson
Renee Arellano

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Above-and-Beyond. Renee’s idea to create a unique bridal basket giveaway as an incentive for prospective brides that generated a large number of sales leads. Renee was also instrumental in the design and execution of The Atrium’s open-house, event which created several on the spot contracts while opening the facility to a variety of prospective clients..

Renee Arellano
Janet Treerapong

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond, Versatility, and Customer Service. In the absence of full-time-staff, Janet assumed many additional accounting responsibilities. These additional tasks included keeping track of incoming deposits and issuing weekly deposit memoranda. Janet accomplished these tasks with great care. Janet also shines with regard to great internal customer service; she is always quick to respond to staff requests for information or guidance.
Janet Treerapong
Dennis Peacock

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties for registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, Dennis provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

John Justice

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties leading up to registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, John provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

Greg Fansler

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties leading up to registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, Greg provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

Lacy Scango

has achieved recognition in the areas of Versatility and Programming. After completing her internship in early 2013, Lacy quickly assumed multiple roles at the park, which she performed with a high level of success. Lacy also assisted in the direction of three summer camps, including the park’s first ever “Puddle Jumper” session. Lacy is also a top mention in program surveys for her expertise and ability to connect with the campers

Debbie Patterson

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. In just a short time, Debbie has proven her versatility and willingness to jump in and assist where needed. Debbie’s assistance with cash reconciliations while outside her normal duties was handled with precision and accuracy. Debbie accomplished all this while still learning and preparing the agency budget.

Debbie Patterson

Liz Gearhart

has achieved recognition in the area of Team Player. Liz continues to take on a number of important roles within Great Blue Heron Catering and does so with exceptional detail and accuracy. Liz plays a critical role in the administration of all catering files, including those from the event venues and a number of other food and beverage operations.
Liz Gearhart
Sarah Johnson

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Sarah assumed the role of Team Leader for the Aquatics Committee bringing to the position an outstanding level of organization and creative thinking. This leadership role has been instrumental in moving NVRPA aquatics to the next level.

Sarah Johnson

Heath Baumann

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Heath’s role at the park is one that can vary depending on the day. Heath adapts to this environment with great ease, handling the day to day maintenance tasks of the park, while also being a valuable resource for visitors and staff alike with his expertise in Natural Resource Management.

Heath Baumann
Vivian Roski

has achieved recognition in the area of Team Player and Customer Service. Vivian has displayed exceptional dependability with her recently expanded role in the management of the golf operations. Vivian continues to provide an unmatched customer service to those who play at Pohick and brings a great deal of creativity and passion to the staff and operations.

Tracy Gillespie

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. Tracy continues to introduce the mill to many new faces through a range of dynamic programs. These programs consistently find their mark at telling the story of the site while engaging the visitor in a one-off experience. Some notable examples are: “Spirited History: A Tasting of Whiskey and History at Aldie Mill and Afternoon Tea at Aldie Mill.

Tracy Gillespie
Anna Cote

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Customer Service. Anna continues to meticulously develop The Woodlands product with a focus on such things as customer care, detailed planning, and exceptional event management. The results of her efforts are satisfied clients and an increase in the overall revenue performance of the venue.

Anna Cote
Casey Pittrizzi

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. Casey rose to the challenge of creating additional sessions for the always popular park summer camps program. The creation of two new programs, including “Nocturnal Naturalists” were well received and provided the public with additional opportunities to experience Potomac Overlook.
Casey Pittrizzi

Tim Geisler

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Cost Savings.  Tim’s extensive working knowledge of the GIS System has saved NVRPA from having to hire consultants to perform the work he can with the system.  Tim’s willingness to learn this system on his own time has been exceptionally helpful when it comes to planning, land acquisition, and permitting.

David Fletcher

has achieved recognition in the areas of Customer Service and Team Player.  David is often the first staff member a visitor to the park may encounter.  David is always ready to provide assistance when needed, from helping a first time fisherman set up his pole to providing the latest tips on where to fish along the reservoir.  David displays a passion for the park and all the activities it encompasses, often assisting with paddle tours, fishing tournaments and clinics.
David Fletcher

Financial Performance Best Net Change in Income
Bull Run Shooting Center up 256%

Laurelyn Rawson of BRSC

Energy Conservation Best Net Change in Consumption
Central Maintenance down 17%

Central Maintenance

Monday, March 17, 2014

Revenue Development & Management School Attracts the Very Best

The Revenue Development and Management School at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling WVA is a remarkable professional development school. A two year program, that involves a week of intensive business skill education each year. This school has been in operation since 1965! During this time other schools have attempted to replicate this, but none of them have lasted.

Part of the reason for this success is the remarkable educational experience that is created at this school, and part of the success has been the great support Oglebay has given to this and a number of other schools related to parks and recreation over the years.

I view this school as a mini-MBA where the business principals are applied to the field of parks and recreation. Many park and recreation agencies generate a significant portion of their operating revenues through enterprise (business) operations. This school is set up to hone the business acumen of these professionals. The result of that is stronger agencies that help to build stronger communities!

Students receive classes on a wide variety of business subjects including:
  • Market Trends
  • Budgeting
  • Pricing
  • Capital Development
  • Marketing
  • Strategic Planning
  • Innovation
  • Leadership
  • Economic Development
  • Partnerships
  • Business Plan Development
  • And much more...
  The program builds up to a Year 2 Project, where teams need to develop a complete business plan for a realistic project. After writing the plan, the teams present their big idea to a mock City Council who pepper them with questions. The whole school is based on applying the very best in business skills to the role of serving the community, and building stronger park and recreation agencies.

The students that come to this school are among the very best in the field of parks and recreation nationwide. In recent years the school as attracted a number of students from park agencies in other countries, who are coming to learn with the best.

Mock City Council Reviews Business Plans

Roy Geiger Presents about the Team

Laurelyn Rawson Presents on the Market Analysis

Karl Mohle Presents the Overview of the Business Plan

Cindy Curtis Teaches Strategic Planning
The Regents & Instructors that teach at this school are unique in that they are all professionals in this field, so they can tie the theories right back to how it works in the "real world."

Friday, March 07, 2014

Snow on the W&OD Trail

Snow Blowing on W&OD in Arlington
As cycling on the W&OD Trail is used more and more as a commuting alternative there is more pressure to clear the trail after snow storms. 

Years ago, when the trail was purely recreational some cross country skiers would enjoy the trail when it was snow covered, and there was less pressure from cyclist to have it cleared.

After the snowmageddon of 2010, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority purchased an industrial sized snow blower attachment for one of our tractors to clear areas of the trail after significant snow (pictured). Although we had a lot of snow in the winter of 2014, it is interesting to think about the extremely mild winters we had in 2011 - 2013. While we can get a foot of snow or more on occasions, it is rare for us to have winters like we just had.  

After the 'arctic vortex' winter we have just had we can all see that the roads are very damaged: lots of pot holes, lane striping and sidewalk marking are worn off. VDOT and City/County transportation departments will spend a lot of money in the spring and summer fixing the damage. Some of this damage is from the impact of plowing. Because the Regional Park Authority does not have the resources to rebuild the trail after every snowy winter, our preferred snow removal technology is blowing the snow. While blowers have an impact, it is less than the plows. In 2009 NVRPA invested in significant pavement markings to improve safety. These markings include rumble strips prior to every intersection, "Stop Ahead" lettering and other markings. In 2012/13 we added a highly reflective center stripe, again to enhance safety. With a ten foot wide, and 45 mile long paved trail, we are re-paving areas of the trail, and placing the markings in the re-paved areas every year as part of our ongoing maintenance, to keep it as the premium trail in the region. This maintenance investment means that every inch of the trail is rebuilt about every ten years. 

For significant snow fall of more than a few inches, and when the weather forecast calls for below freezing temperatures for a number of days, NVRPA will start in Arlington and clear the trail of snow with its snow blower moving west. If it is a very minor snow with a forecast for warm temperature and sunshine within a day or two, we will likely let mother nature clear the trail.

Large snow falls create many hazards to cyclist including: roads narrow, sidewalks disappear, sight lines are blocked by mountains of snow, and then there are all the slick areas with ice patches. Even if the W&OD trail is passable after a large snow storm cyclist should consider their entire route and think about whether it is safe to break out the bike, or if they should consider another route until conditions improve. Remember snowy streets in Northern Virginia is not a long-term condition.

I cycle to work sometimes, and I understand the desire to get out there and ride. But please consider the safety of you and others before heading out.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Regional Parks helps tell story of civil rights through historic site

Tinner Family in the late 1800s
February is National African American History Month, and in Northern Virginia a landmark of the early civil rights movement is closer than ever to being a public historic site that will help people for generations to come learn of the brave actions the civil rights movement is based on.
The Tinner Hill property on the border between the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County will soon be a historic site managed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA). Half the property is owned by the City and half is owned by the County, and both will soon be leasing it to NVRPA. Plans to break ground on the first phase of historical interpretation are planned for this spring. Interpretive efforts will be guided by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation who has been working to educate the public about this chapter in the civil rights movement for years.
The significance of this site relates to 1915, a troubling time in America. One of the most popular movies of that year was ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ a movie that glamorized the racist Ku Klux Klan. In Northern Virginia, and in many other parts of the country, some of the worst segregation laws were being passed during this period. In the Town of Falls Church, there was an effort to pass a law that would allow African Americans to only live in certain areas. This effort would have displaced many African American families who had lived in the area since the Civil War.
In response to this, Joseph Tinner, a local stone mason, Dr. E. B. Henderson, an area educator, and other civic leaders in the African American community met at Tinner’s house, in an area now called Tinner Hill, and formed an organization that grew into the first rural chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and the first chapter in Virginia. This early chapter of the NAACP is still in existence today as the Fairfax County Chapter of this renowned organization. Tinner, Henderson and the others were successful in their efforts to oppose the segregationist ‘Jim Crow’ law. "No more sacrifice could be asked of anyone than for these people who started this branch of the NAACP, to put their lives and their livelihoods on the line to stand up for their civil rights" noted Edwin B. Henderson II, the grandson of Dr. E.B. Henderson and founder of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. The Foundation has been promoting local African American history for the last 17 years.
"Tinner Hill is not just a Falls Church story, or even just a regional story, it is a Virginia story and even national story because they built the foundation for NAACP chapters around our state and set the bar for what rural chapters should look like across the nation, especially when it comes to advocating for the rights of people of color," stated John T. Chapman, Alexandria City Councilman and former President of the Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP.
If the modern civil rights movement started with the founding of the NAACP in 1909, then the civil rights victory at Tinner Hill was perhaps the first major success of this movement in Northern Virginia. Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder remarked, “We celebrate with our partners this critical milestone in assuring that future generations can learn of this community's nonviolent victory for human rights. As Abraham Lincoln stated in his dedicatory remarks at Gettysburg: ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.’”
The Tinner house was taken down in 1966, and today the site is an open half acre lot. The vision for the near term is to create a plaza area with interpretive signs about the historic events of the site. There will be a walkway that runs along the City/County border. This border path will create a great way to show people how there was an effort to only allow African Americans to live on one side of that line, and not the other. There is also a plan to build a picnic shelter, using some of the pink granite that this area is known for, and a stone that Joseph Tinner often used. This will create a gathering place where people can learn about the struggles and victories of the past, and enjoy a great setting.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is known for operating some of the region’s most significant historic sites. From the colonial-era Carlyle House in Alexandria to numerous Civil War sites, including Ball’s Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg, to many other sites of regional and national significance, Tinner Hill Historic Site will help tell an important and little known story of our regional and national struggle for civil rights. “We at NVRPA are excited that the Tinner Hill Historic Site will become part of our operations.  The history and story of Tinner Hill represent a major impact to our region, and NVRPA is pleased to help tell the story,” remarked Barry Buschow, NVRPA Board member.

Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth said, “Many have wanted this historic site to become a reality for years. I am so grateful that all the critical pieces have come into place to make this a reality.”  Because this property is half in the City of Falls Church and half in Fairfax County, and a portion is owned by each of these governments, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority with extensive historic site experience is the perfect entity to develop and manage this site.

This story has been picked up by a number of local media sources including:

Falls Church News-Press

Alexandria News

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Insightful Questions from a Boy Scout


You have asked some great questions and I am happy to answer.  I wish you all the best on your path towards becoming an Eagle Scout.

Do you create new parks or do you just expand and renovate the old ones?

Park systems are mostly about the land.  Because of this, I think good park systems are always looking for ways to expand.  In the last five years, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has added over 500 acres at seven different locations.  So yes, we expand parkland and also renovate older park facilities.

If you create new ones, how do you decide where to build them?

In Northern Virginia, with so much of the land already developed, we are always looking for where there are great opportunities to find land that might make good parks.  As we look at various properties, we use a score card to rank what kind of characteristics that land has.  We look at issues such as: protection of major rivers, protection of natural or historic resources, accessibility to the public, development potential and cost.  If the property scores high, and if we have the money or can get grants, then our Board authorizes us to make an offer to the landowner.


If you expand and renovate old parks how do you decide when it is time to expand and renovate?

Must organizations like ours have two budgets . One is for ongoing day-to-day operations, and one is for one-time big expenses like building something or buying land.  This one-time big project budget is called “Capital.”  Building new facilities and major renovations are funded from this Capital Budget, and a big piece of those funds come from park bonds (see the questions below).


Your question about when we plan to build or renovate facilities comes back to the Capital Budget.  We will have a big picture plan for how these funds will be spent over the next 5 years, which is called our “Capital Improvement Plan.”  Then, every year we update a more specific plan of what we will do in our annual Capital Budget.  When we get new facilities or equipment, we estimate how long it will last. A new building might have an estimated life of 40 years, and a new roof might be 20.  This does not mean that we replace these assets at that age, it is just an estimate to help us plan.  As facilities get older, we inspect them to see how they are doing and fix them as needed.


In addition to fixing up our old facilities, we are always looking for new facilities that will serve the public in great new ways.  We go to trade shows, read what other park systems are doing around the county and use our imagination to come up with exciting new features.


We built a new holiday light show at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna and opened it last year.  About 30,000 people experience this feature each year now.  We are planning and permitting a new waterpark ride that is like a roller coaster and that will be open at Cameron Run Waterpark in the summer of 2015.  And we are planning major renovations to Occoquan Regional Park that will make that park serve the public better than ever before.


How do young people help?

Young people can help in many ways.  

For buying new parkland, we need money to fund the purchases.  You live in Fairfax County and about every 4 years or so, there is a County Park Bond.  This is when the voters are asked to approve an effort by the county to borrow money to help fund both land acquisition and building new park facilities.  When these bonds happen, young people can talk to groups and write letters to newspapers, or post on their blogs support for these efforts.  About every ten years, the state also has a bond for State Parks and Natural Areas (Virginia is a few years overdue for this).


Even if young people like you cannot vote, as someone who hikes, camps and uses parks, you can influence others about how important it is to support parks and expand them.


Another way that young people like you can help is to offer your service in fixing up parks.  Either with your troop, as an Eagle project, or as an individual volunteer, there are always a lot of projects to be done in parks.  Talk to the park manager of any park and they will likely have a great list of projects they could use your help on.  At NVRPA, we have around 50,000 hours a year that are volunteered by people like you to help us operate.  We could not offer the quality of service in our parks that we do if it were not for all the help of volunteers.


Nick, thanks again for your great questions.  Our campgrounds at Pohick Bay, Bull Run and Blue Ridge work well for Scout groups, and hope you and your troop are using our facilities.  We also have over 100 miles of trails, including the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, and the W&OD.


Again, I wish you all the best in achieving your Eagle Scout status.


Paul Gilbert


Executive Director

Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Budget Award!

Financial "transparency" means both using the best standards in budgeting and finance, making those documents understandable to a non-expert reader, and making them open and available to the public.

The reason this is important boils down to public trust. As a public agency it is important that people can see and understand our financial information. At the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority we take this public trust very seriously.

We post our budgets and audits on-line for all to see:

We also have a record of winning top awards from the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) for both our audit (comprehensive financial report), and our budget. Above is an image of the latest letter I received from GFOA about our budget award.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NVRPA and Alexandria's Strategic Plan

How the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
Connects with the City of Alexandria’s Strategic Plan

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) has its own 5-year Strategic Plan that was adopted in 2012.  NVRPA’s plan is a living document that is strongly integrated into its annual budget and guides all programs and activities of the Authority. One of the major focuses of NVRPA over the last decade has been to become a strategic plan focused organization. This transformation has lead to great growth and development of the organization, and greater value for the public.

8 minute video on NVRPA's Strategic Plan:

While the City of Alexexandria's plan was developed primarily to guide the activities of City government, below are some of the ways that NVRPA actions are supporting the goals of the City.

Alexandria's Strategic Plan:

Goal #1
Alexandria has quality development and redevelopment, support for local businesses and a strong, diverse and growing local economy.

NVRPA’s two parks in the City, Carlyle House in Old Town, and Cameron Run/Great Waves on Eisenhower Avenue, are both economic engines for the City.
·         One of the City goals is to “increase the appeal of King Street and the Waterfront to shoppers and diners.” As a major historic tourist attraction in Old Town, the Carlyle House Historic Park contributes greatly to the historic charm of this area that draws so many visitors.  For 2014, the Carlyle House is projected to attract 16,700 visitors who might otherwise not be patronizing Old Town shops.
·         Cameron Run/Great Waves is considered to be one of the top waterpark attractions in the greater metropolitan area.  As such, this waterpark attracts 92,000 visitors each year.  While many of these visitors are from Alexandria, many other visitors from other parts of the region are coming to this attraction in Alexandria and are spending money in the community contributing to the tourism economy.  Some of the economic results of this include:
o   Over 60 local people find summer employment at Great Waves.
o   Many local contractors benefit from the purchase of all sorts of supplies needed to run this operation.

 Goal #2
Alexandria respects, protects and enhances the health of its citizens and the quality of its natural environment.

While the two NVRPA parks in Alexandria are urban in nature, NVRPA has over 11,000 acres in the Northern Virginia region, with about 90% of this land being in a natural state.  As a result of this, Alexandria citizens not only benefit from cleaner air and water, but are able to camp, hike, fish and enjoy wonderful natural places within easy range of the City.  All the drinking water for Alexandria comes from the Occoquan Reservoir, which is protected by nearly 4,000 acres of NVRPA parkland.

 Goal #3
A multimodal transportation network that supports sustainable land use and provides internal mobility and regional connectivity for Alexandrians.

Connected to Alexandria via City trails, is the W&OD Trail, owned and operated by NVRPA.  This 45-mile paved trail is the central spine of the bike trail network in Northern Virginia, and its trailhead in Shirlington is accessed by many Alexandria cyclists.

Cameron Run/Great Waves is connect with a well-used bike path, and is within a short distance of two Metro Stations. Carlyle House is in the highly walkable Old Town area with good bus service available.

Goal #4
Alexandria is a community that supports and enhances the well-being, success and achievement of children, youth and families.

At Cameron Run/Great Waves, over 60 local youth get meaningful summer employment.  In many cases, this is a first-time work experience for these young people.  From this summer employment, they learn skills for life, and are part of a safe and structured environment during the summer.

Starting in the summer of 2013 and going forward, the Carlyle House is offering an educationally rich summer camp experiences for young children.  Also at the Carlyle House, over 1,400 local school children are participating in  field trips that are tied to the Standards of Leaning.

Goal #5
Alexandria is financially sustainable, efficient, community oriented and values its employees.

NVRPA follows the City’s focus on sound financial management.  For the last six years, NVRPA has received both the ‘Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting’ and the ‘Distinguished Budget Presentation Award’ from the Government Finance Officers Association.

NVRPA puts a great deal of attention on developing diverse funding sources.  As a result of this focus, the percentage of operating funding that comes to NVRPA from Alexandria and the other five member jurisdictions has gone down annually.  Currently, only 16% of the operating revenues come from the member jurisdictions, with the remaining 84% being generated by a wide variety of self-funded enterprise operations.

Goal #6
The City protects the safety and security of its residents, businesses, employees and visitors.

With the large number of visitors at Cameron Run/Great Waves, NVRPA regularly hires off-duty Alexandria police officers to provide security and safety on busy days.

Goal #7
Alexandria is a caring and inclusive community that values its rich diversity, history and culture, and promotes affordability.

The Carlyle House is a key part of the attractions that make Old Town a heritage tourism destination center and economic engine for the City.  NVRPA collaborates closely with the City’s Gadsby’s Tavern and Apothecary Museums on programs and marketing focused on historic tourism.

To promote economic accessibility of facilities like Great Waves, NVRPA started a program four years ago that allow youth to work as volunteers and earn credits towards entry to NVRPA fee-based facilities.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Role of Parks in Global Climate Change

Nature is more than Birds and Bunnies
The Role of Parks & Rec in Global Climate Change
By: Paul Gilbert, Executive Director
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Parks have always had a role in nature education.  They are where the public goes to experience and learn about the natural world.  Many agencies have nature centers, guided hike or paddling trips, nature-focused summer camps, and more.  But most of those programs and facilities are focused on local flora and fauna (birds and bunnies).  There has always been and will always be some demand for this.  However, if parks and recreation is to remain relevant and important in our communities, we need to address the important issues of today.  And, in the environmental field, nothing is bigger than global climate change.  From extreme weather events to rising sea levels to reduced crop yields, the effects of climate change are front page news.

These planet altering impacts are caused by greenhouse gases like carbon pollution heating our atmosphere.  It may all seem too global to address on a local level, but it is not, and park agencies can be local leaders in promoting sustainability and educating people about what they can do.

Reducing your footprint:

In 2005, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority adopted energy conservation plans for each park.  At the same time, it started tracking its carbon footprint.  Using the accounting system, instead of just recording utility costs, it also recorded units of consumption for all fuels, so it could calculate its carbon footprint.  Every year, the facility that had the greatest reduction in energy consumption is recognized and awarded at an all staff meeting.

Results: While carbon emissions in 2012 were virtually the same as in 2005, our park system has grown dramatically from 19 to 25 parks and from $10 to 16 million in enterprise revenues.  With enterprise revenues as a good measure of activity, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has been able to go from 350 tons of carbon per $1 million of enterprise revenue to just 235 tons.  That indicates a great increase in efficiency!

How it was achieved: While many methods were used, the real answer to how it was achieves is the same answer to how anything is achieved…Focus.  In all aspects of life you will go where you place your focus.  In this case, focus has meant tracking results, creating plans and making many small decisions that collectively move you in the direction you want.  These small steps include:
·         Having a policy that the “life cycle costs” of any energy consuming system is considered.  This means that you may not buy the cheapest equipment if that equipment uses more energy in the long run.
·         Addressing “low hanging fruit” like lighting and insulation to improve the energy consumption of existing buildings.
·         Building new structures with green building elements that improve efficiency.
·         Using a wide range of technologies like geothermal heat pumps, electric and hybrid vehicles, solar panels and programmable thermostats.

Educate the Public: Reducing your carbon footprint is just a small part of the answer for park and recreation organizations.  At least as important is our role in educating the public, so they can learn how to be more sustainable in their lives too.

In 2009, Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington Virginia revamped its aging nature center.  The new center has an energy theme throughout the exhibits, from the solar power that creates plant life, throughout the whole chain of life up to humans and how we use energy.  This center connects how we live to all the life on our planet.  It is a different approach from the dusty, taxidermied beavers of traditional nature centers.  And it is an approach that connects nature to people in more relevant ways.

In 2013 the two all LED holiday light shows that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority operates will have renewable energy credits purchased to offset their power consumption. This initiative has come from a sponsorship deal with Dominion Power for the light show. This is yet another opportunity to educate the public about carbon footprint and sustainability.

Park agencies have always had a key role in connecting people to the natural world.  In a world where our natural environment is changing rapidly as a result of climate change, we need to change just as fast in how we connect with the public on these issues and offer leadership in how to be part of the solution.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Healthy Government Retirement Plan

Government based retirement plans are sometime in the news, and rarely in a good light. So here is some good news! Since 2008 the retirement plan run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) has grown its assets by over 75%. That works out to an average of 15% per year for that period.

The reason this is important is that more than half of our operating expense for a park system is the cost of people (employees). And a significant percentage of the cost of a full time employee is the contribution that the organization provides to that retirement plan each year to offset a future withdraws someday when that employee is retired.

Here are some facts that help to explain why this plan is healthy while others are still trying to recover from the hit in value that resulted from the recession:

  • NVRPA employees contribute 5% of there pre-tax income to the plan.
  • There is an actuary study done on the plan every year to determine what the contribution should be. This is essentially an outside audit of our assets and obligations, and how they balance out over time.
  • The plan Trustees have worked to diversify the range of investments working with our third party plan advisers.
  • Several times during the worst days of the recession (2009 - 2010) the NVRPA Board wisely invested additional funds after extensive study to shore up the plan. These investments when the value of stocks was low may prove to be one of the best long-term financial decisions made by the Board.
The financial health of any organization has a direct and powerful affect on the ability of that organization to achieve its mission. So if you appreciate open space, natural resources protection, history, and fabulous destination parks, you need to also support the financial health and vitality of park systems like NVRPA.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Expanding Parkland!

Anne Webb (former owner) and Lisa Alexander (Executive Director of ANS) at the Webb Sanctuary

More parkland is always a great thing, and I am pleased to announce that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has recently added 4 new properties to our portfolio of parkland! The new additions bring our total acreage up to 11,262!

·         Many people know that the Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg was added by way of a long-term lease. We celebrated this addition of 68 acres with an open house at the end of September. This is a partnership with Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS).

·         In addition to Rust another part of our partnership with ANS is the addition of the Webb Sanctuary a 20 property in Clifton. We just added Webb Sanctuary as a new NVRPA property last week!

·         Mt. Defiance is the central property for the Battle of Middleburg. We have been working on this deal for some time, but just this week we acquired ownership of this property from the Civil War Trust. This gives us another important piece of Civil War history.

·         At Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park, across from Mt. Zion a 66 acre property that we have been leasing from the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) will be owned by us next week. Kate Rudacille successfully put together many different federal and state grants, so that our investment in this property will be less than 10% of the value, a remarkable accomplishment!

In addition to these great successes, we have a number of other great land acquisition deals in the works that will continue to grow our base of parkland in the region. I look forward to being able to announce more good acquisition news in the months ahead.

An important measure of success for any park agency is growth. Like the trees in our forests you are either in a state of growth or a state of decline. We should all take pride that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority continues to grow and develop in wonderful ways! We measure this success and growth in many ways: new and improved facilities, and programs, number of users, customer service, and expanding revenue to support the agency and our mission. All of these measures are important, but growth of parkland is one measure of success that almost everyone can appreciate. This gets to the core of why we are here, to conserve land for current and future generations.