Friday, October 10, 2014

Alexandria Residents flock to NOVA Parks

The City of Alexandria just concluded a survey of 915 residents concerning NOVA Parks. While it is odd that the City Parks and Recreation Department would pay for a survey of parks that they do not operate, the results reaffirm how important NOVA Parks are to Alexandria residents.

55% of City Residents enjoy Cameron Run/Great Waves regularly. Out of those that use Cameron Run, 60% use the water park several times a year. Before this survey was done, NOVA Parks had shared with the City that over 30,000 City residents a year were using the Great Waves water park at Cameron Run. This survey just serves to confirm the high rate of use by City residents that was already documented.

It is encouraging to see hard numbers to support how much City residents use the NOVA Parks that are not located in the City. 31% of people from Alexandria are using the W&OD Trail. 19-20% of Alexandrians are using Pohick Bay Regional Park as well as Bull Run Regional Parks. Both of these parks are very large parks with a great deal of nature, trails, access to the water, camping and much more.

We all are part of the larger Northern Virginia Region and our lives do not begin or end at a City/County line. If you live in Alexandria and want an outdoor experience that includes hiking, camping, kayaking or other ways to connect to nature, you can have those experiences at a Regional Park that is not very far away. This was why the Regional Park system was set up 55 years ago. There are amenities that can not be easily replicated in each jurisdiction. But as a member of NOVA Parks, City residents have all be benefits of a wide variety of parks and amenities.

This survey confirms the high value the citizens of Alexandria place on NOVA Parks.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Great Park Performance in 2014

Fiscal Year 2014 (July 1 2013 - June 30 2014) was the best year in NOVA Parks 55 year history! Park usage was up about 9% overall topping last year's great numbers.

In 1959 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) was founded to conserve major areas along the region's rivers. Eventually the regional agency grew to 3 counties, and 3 cities, with each jurisdiction contributing a small per capita fee to support both capital and operating expenses. While this contribution of tax dollars funded 100% of the operations in the early years, it never kept pace with inflation.

Starting in the mid-1960s the agency became an innovator in enterprise operations, and that innovation has continued. Today 85% of the operations of NOVA Parks is funded with enterprise operations, not tax dollars. The growth of this entrepreneurial model has allowed NOVA Parks to continue to grow and develop, conserving more natural areas and historic sites in the process.

Many people have the wrong idea about how park revenue (fees) work. They think this means raising rates and charging people to enter public parks. In reality that is not how it work at NOVA Parks. We look at our fees and prices every year and make small adjustments up and down depending on the market. But in general our rates do not change much over time.We make more money, and serve more of the public, by being attuned to our customers. We must compete for the time and money of our customers. To be successful our facilities, and programs must be attractive. This is a very different model than being largely tax funded. The largely tax supported agencies can do great good, but are at risk of being less responsive to the desires of their customers. I think the enterprise approach has a lot of advantages. One of the great advantages is that when we make money, it is reinvested in improving our facilities and programs. This creates a positive cycle of improvements and performance reinforcing each other.

While we measure many of our performance data in dollars, since the rate are not changing much, a spike up really means we were successful in attracting and serving more of the public.

Here is a snap shot of fiscal year 2014:

  • Total users up 9% over last year
  • Rental of meeting & event facilities up 23%
  • Cultural, Natural and Historic sites up 19%
  • Waterparks up 11.6%
  • Recreational resources parks up 3%
  • Golf - about the same
  • Camping - about the same
All of this resulted in a new high water mark for the organization. Part of this success may be due to a new comprehensive customer service program? Or, perhaps the excellent condition of our facilities? Or, perhaps innovative new programs and offerings? Or, most likely a little bit of all those efforts. An exceptional staff, and a smart and focused Board, all contribute to this great performance!

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Mission, New Look, New Brand

"NOVA Parks - the best of Northern Virginia through nature, history, and great family experiences"

This is the new Mission Statement for NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority). Many Mission Statement try to say too much. They try to explain the "hows" and "whats" of everything the organization does. What a Mission Statement is really supposed to do is just address the all important "why" questions. What is at the core of why this organization is? What purpose this group serves in the world?

With NOVA Parks we have for 55 years conserved some of the best nature in the region. Over 11,000 acres, most of it in a natural state, and much of it along the major rivers of the area, providing the most important wildlife habitat.

With history NOVA Parks is one of the top preservation organizations in the area. The list of historic assets is long, and growing but a few notable sites include:

  • Carlyle Historic Mansion in Old Town Alexandria c1752
  • Ball's Buff Battlefield in Leesburg c1861
  • Aldie Mill c1810
  • Mt. Zion Historic Church c1852
  • Mt. Defiance (Battle of Middleburg) c1863
  • Tinner Hill (civil rights parks) c1915
  • And many other sites...
Great family experience can be found throughout the park system. In my opinion few can beat family camping at Pohick Bay or Bull Run. Attending our award winning five water parks can create lasting memories of great times. And our numerous seasonal events including:

  • Temple Hall fall corn MAiZE and festival (fall)
  • Bull Run Festival of Lights (winter)
  • Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights (winter)
  • Many unique events at the Bull Run Special Events Center
  • And much more...
NOVA Parks represents the best of what the Northern Virginia Region has to offer!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

High Performance Agencies

Park, Recreation or Tourism organizations have the potential to transform communities, and make the world a better place in numerous way. But this great potential can only be achieved if those organizations are functioning at their best. This is the underlying premise of my new book High Performance Agencies: The Entrepreneurial Model for Public Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Organizations. This book was just released by Sagamore Publishing. and is available at:

I was very honored to have Barbara Tulipane the President/CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association write the forward for this book. The book features great examples from around the Country of agencies that are using best management practices in various areas to achieve great results. In addition to the Forward, various leaders in this field have contributed to sections of the book. These contributing writers include:
John O'Meara - Executive Director, Columbus and Franklin County Metropolitan Park District
Tom Starnes - Communications Manager, Orange County Park District
MaryBeth Thaman - Director, Kettering Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts
Brian Zimmerman - CEO, Cleveland Metro Park District
Michael McCarty - Director, Fairfax City Park and Recreation Department
Tom Lovell - Administrator, Lee's Summit Park and Recreation Department
Randall Ferris - Senior Attractions Supervisor, Herschend Family Entertainmant, Stone Mountain

For more information on this and my other book Lead Like a General visit my author web site at:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Land donations for parkland leaves lasting legacy

NOVA Parks, with its reputation for conservation and running world class public sites has attracted land donations for many decades. Counting full ownership donations, partial value donations, and long-term leases for token amounts, we have 14 properties that have been contributed to the public good.

If you visit the headquarters of NOVA Parks there is one wall will back and white photos of land donors from the 1970s and 1980s. And outside the Board room is another wall with color photos of some of the more recent donations (although it is not fully up to date, due to recent donations).

Since 2006 there has been a new wave of land donations that are celebrated on this wall. The modern donations include:
  • Aldie Mill Historic Park - 2006
  •  Mt. Zion Historic Park - 2009
  • Additional area of Pohick Bay Regional Park  - 2009
  • Additional area of Pohick Bay Regional Park - 2012
  • Linn Nature Preserve - 2012
  • Rust Sanctuary - 2013
  • Webb Sanctuary - 2013
  • Mt. Defiance Historic Park - 2013
  • Jackson House (part of Balls Bluff) - 2014
  • Tinner Hill Historic Site - 2014 
Historically, big parks like Meadowlark Garden, Red Rock Overlook, and Temple Hall Farm Park were donated to NOVA Parks.

These donations have, and will continue to leave a legacy of history, nature, recreation, and open space that will enrich the lives of countless people in our region for generations to come!

If you are interested in exploring the idea of donating all, or part, of your land for public park use, contact me at pgilbert(at) and we can help you think through the issues related to such a gift. Virginia continues to have one of the strongest tax credit programs in the nation to encourage this kind of gift.
Gary Knipling Donating one of his properties on Mason Neck

Journey Though Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Project

Our great partners at the Journey Though Hallowed Ground have launched a remarkable effort. They are working to plant over 600,000 trees along Rt. 15 from Gettysburg to Charlottesville. These trees will each represent an individual who died as a result of the Civil War. This multi-year effort is not only a meaningful way to honor these fallen soldiers, but also a great way to make the Rt.15 corridor one of the most beautiful in the nation.

JTHG is a great organization that NOVA Parks is proud to partner with in many ways, with our numerous historic properties in this corridor. These parks include:
  • White's Ford Regional Park
  • Temple Hall Farm Park
  • Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park
  • Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Park
  • Aldie Mill Historic Park
  • Mt. Zion Historic Park
  • Gilbert's Corner Regional Park

Living Legacy Tree Planting Project Ceremony with U.S. Marine Corps
Sunday June 29, 2014

In its continuing effort to appropriately commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership will host a Living Legacy Tree Planting Project ceremony, scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 29th at 2:30 p.m., at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens in Leesburg, Virginia. The Commandant's Own, the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the official Color Guard of the Marine Corps will be participating in the ceremony. The 60 members of this prestigious military group will perform as part of the ceremony, which is free and open to the public.

The United States Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps and the Official Color Guard of the Marine Corps are part of the Marine Corps Detachment attached to Marine Barracks Washington, also known as the "Oldest Post of the Corps." These Marines have agreed to participate in the June 29th Ceremony to honor the over 500 fallen Civil War soldiers who will be commemorated with newly planted and dedicated trees along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, Rt. 15. The Marine Corps Color Guard carries the official Battle Colors of the Marine Corps. The 54 streamers and silver bands displayed on the battle colors commemorate the military campaigns in which Marines have participated. They span the entire history of the nation, from the American Revolution to the present.

The June 29th Living Legacy Tree Project Planting Ceremony is scheduled the week of Independence Day and serves as a reminder to us of the sacrifice made by generations before. This planting is part of the Living Legacy Tree Planting project, a sweeping and ambitious effort to plant or dedicate a tree for each of the more than 620,000 soldiers who died during the American Civil War and was launched by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership to create an appropriate legacy for the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Each tree is geotagged to share the name of the soldier, where he was born, where he died and include the story of the soldier’s life.

In addition to the musical interlude, remarks will be given by JTHG Partnership President Cate Magennis Wyatt, Senior Executive Brock Bierman, and other dignitaries. Students who have been researching the stories of the fallen soldiers will also be on hand to dedicate the trees that day. Oatlands will be offering free admission to the mansion for anyone attending the ceremony, and welcomes visitors to join the opening of their Annual Art Show with a reception beginning at 5:30 in the Carriage House. This will be the seventh planting ceremony, each one of which recognizes the individuals for whom the tree is planted.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wolf Run Shoals

Recently new interpretive signs were installed at NOVA Parks land at the end of Wolf Run Shoals Road in the Clifton area of Fairfax County. Jim Lewis with the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable was instrumental in getting this Civil War Trails sign and organizing this great event.

Chris Pauley, Director of Operations for NOVA Parks spoke to the group about some of the many civil war sites that are under the stewardship of NOVA Parks.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tree Planting to Improve Parkland

New trees at Occoquan Regional Park
Spring is here and we have been busy planting trees! 800 new trees this month to be exact, and most of them along major rivers. The area next to the water is call the "riparian" zone. And this area is where the most ecological benefits can be gains from planting a buffer. The wooded buffer filters the water after it rains, and holds the soil in, so it does not wash away. This riparian zone is also key wildlife habitat for many animals.

This spring our 800 new trees went in at Bull Run Regional Park, Algonkian Regional Park, and Occoquan Regional Park, all of which are on major rivers.

The Strategic Plan for NOVA Parks calls for us to "enhance natural resource conservation in riparian areas." Last year we planted several thousand trees at White's Ford Regional Park. In the coming years we will continue this effort to improve the ecological value of our parkland near the water.

Groups that helped plant these trees included Potomac Heritage Trail Association, Sterling Rotary Club, Cascades HOA and local Boy Scouts.

Tree Planting at Algonkian Regional Park

Monday, May 19, 2014

Remarkable deal on Parkland for the Public

One of the great bargains of living in Northern Virginia is that you get wonderful destination parks offered by NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) for a bargain. The tax dollar cost per person for this system of 25 unique and iconic parks (over 11,000 acres) is just $1.89 per year.

One of the keys to this remarkable deal is that through enterprise operations we are able to generate 85% of our operating revenues! Below is a chart that was published in the May issue of Park and Recreation Magazine. The column that is called "Spending per Resident" is the one that compares to our unusual $1.89 per person per year, tax support.

NOVA Parks is truly unique in the deal that we provide the public. Local park systems in the Northern Virginia area range from $27.5 to $179.2 in their tax dollars per person per year.

Part of the difference between these system is how extensive they are. It is no surprise that a simple system can be at a lower cost than a fancy system. But that is not the entire issue. NOVA Parks has some of the best and most iconic parks in the nation, places like the W&OD Trail, Meadowlark Gardens, Bull Run, Algonkian, Carlyle House and much, much more.The other issue is how the agency has structured their funding. In some areas free services are seen as a great virtue and that is an OK choice, but leads to a higher level of tax support. Offering value added services that people can choose to do with they want, is another way. At NOVA Parks 90+% of our parkland is free to the public, but beyond just the land, there are things to do that have reasonable fees connected to them. By offering a good value for these extra services, these offerings are very popular, and drive more visitation. This approach helps make an expanding park system available to the public with a low level of taxpayer support. A win-win solution in many ways.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Korean Bell Garden, Unique in Western Hemiphere

This Saturday, May 10, 2014 we celebrate the second anniversary of the completion of the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. From 11:00 - 12:00 we will have music, speakers, and food that highlights some of the best elements of Korean culture. Some of the interesting facts about the Korean Bell Garden are:
·         All the structures were built by hand by artists from Korea.
·         The bell pavilion has virtually no nails or screws in it. Every piece was carved to fit together perfectly.
·         Large bells like this are common in many Asian countries with differences in how they are made. Korean Bells have an acoustic tube cast into the top to give them a unique sound.
·         This bell was cast in the Gyeonggi Province of Korea. Governor Kim from Gyeonggi Province recently visited the Bell Garden.
·         This bell is one of a kind with nature images from both Korea and Virginia cast into it. The Cardinal and Dogwood are both cast into the bell.
·         This bell  garden is unique in the Western Hemisphere. There is a Korean Bell in California, and another in Vancouver CA, but no other with a complete setting around it.
·         The whole Korean Bell Garden was built without any local tax funds. Community leaders raise the money primarily from private donors with help from both Gyeonggi Province, and the Republic of Korea.
·         From 2007 – 2012 the Korean American Cultural Committee  raised the money and oversaw the development of the garden.

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.