Saturday, January 21, 2006

Reinactors at Balls Bluff Regional Park

The battle of Balls Bluff near Leesburg took place earily in the Civil War. When some of the dead solders from this conflict floated down river to Washington, it was one of the first times many of the political elite of the time realized that this would not be a quick or easy war.

Today the Balls Bluff Battlefield on the banks of the Potomac River is owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Every year reinactors come to this site and recreate some of the activities that likely took place at this time.

Strategic plan for parks is on the way

Strategic Planning Process

The board and staff of NVRPA have been engaged in a strategic planning process that has been going on for a number of months. Development of the new mission statement is perhaps the most important foundational step in this plan, since all of our programs and plans should be consistent with our mission. Other actions like adding transparency to our budget documents, working on land acquisitions, and setting a priority on energy conservation are all elements of an evolving plan for the future.

Below is a brief description of the key planning elements of this planning process:

  • Mission Statement. This document adopted by the board in October is the foundational document that the rest of the plan should relate to.
  • Vision for Park Programs. This is a one-day planning session with the management team (Assistant Park Manager and up). The purpose of this session is to develop programmatic and strategic ideas that can be used in the development of the final plan.
  • Park Needs Assessment. Over the last three years Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County have all contracted park needs surveys to assess the public’s interest/need for various types of park features and programs. NVRPA is contracting a comparable survey of Loudoun, Falls Church and Fairfax City. This data will be analyzed and compared to the existing data from the other jurisdictions to create a park needs assessment for our whole region. Collectively our end product will have the backing of over 3,500 interviews throughout our region. This data will give NVRPA wonderful planning tool to help guild our capital and programmatic planning.
  • Facilitated Strategic Planning Process. This will be the all important step, were the board works with a strategic planning facilitator to take the building blocks of the Mission Statement, Vision for Park Programs and Park Needs Assessment, and creates a well crafted plan for the next 3-5 years.
  • Public Hearing/Comment. This step will give us direct input on how members of the public feel about the proposed plan.
  • Plan Adoption. After the board has considered any public comments, the board should formally adopt the plan.

NVRPA Energy Conservation Policy


The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority shall lead by example in the field of energy conservation. We will help create a more sustainable society that is less dependent on non-renewable resources, and achieve long-term cost savings. Through energy conservation, we will be reducing the environmental and social impacts of burning fossil fuels, reducing global warming, habitat destruction, and air pollution.

Measurable Results:

NVRPA will track energy use by units of consumption for each operating location. This consumption will be compared to baseline consumption data from 2005.

For fiscal year 2007 (July 1, 2006 – June 30 2007), NVRPA will have a goal of reducing energy consumption by 5%.


To achieve these goals, NVRPA will examine high efficiency technologies, wherever practical. We will consider cradle-to-grave lifecycle costs of energy-dependent systems. We will total lifecycle costs and not just initial start up costs, when purchasing energy- dependent systems. We will strive to utilize a wide variety of technologies and practices, where practical, including: green building materials and methodologies, passive and active solar, geothermal HVAC, energy efficient lighting, energy efficient pumps and vehicles that use a variety of energy sources, including electric, hybrid, CNG, fuel cell and other technologies that become available, practical and cost effective.

To achieve maximum efficiency in our current systems, NVRPA will continue its policy of regular preventive maintenance of all its energy-dependent equipment and facilities. Energy conservation practices will be actively encouraged throughout the park system.

To track our progress in energy conservation, NVRPA will conduct an audit of its current energy consumption and will track energy consumption levels over time. We will seek to encourage others to reduce energy consumption by making available to the public periodic reports on our progress.

Conservation Methods:

To achieve our energy conservation goals, NVRPA will implement conservation methods including the following:

Track energy consumption

Follow Energy Star recommended practices

Perform monthly HVAC maintenance

Reduce HVAC use when not needed

Maintain proper air pressure in vehicle tires

Use high efficiency lighting

Reduce mowed areas of parks

Use green building methods and materials

How NVRPA’s Energy Conservation Plans follow EPA Recommendations:

  1. By adopting a conservation policy, the NVRPA Board has made an organizational commitment to energy conservation.
  2. Assessing current performance is documented with baseline data on energy consumption for 2005.
  3. We have set a goal of reducing energy consumption by 5% in the first year, which is tangible and achievable.
  4. The building blocks of our action plan are contained in our policy. Each operating location will develop specific implementation plans for how these goals will be best achieved.
  5. Evaluation of progress will be achieved through a new energy consumption tracking system that will be implemented by the Budget & Finance Department.
  6. Recognition of Achievement will be done through our annual employee achievement awards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Think Cabins for Winter Camping Fun

It is a great time to rent a cabin, and have a camping experience with the comforts of a heated cabin with real beds. It is just the right amount of roughing it for many.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is meeting a need for all weather camping by providing rustic cabins for our campgrounds at both Pohick Bay and Bull Run. Soon there will be six cabins at each one of these campgrounds.

In December I rented one of these cabins with my family, and my Sister’s family rented a cabin next to ours. We had a great time! These cabins offer all the fun of camping with a few extra creature comforts. These offer the perfect combination for an outdoors weekend in the winter or early spring. During the summer it will be nice, because it also is air-conditioned.

Today park staff from throughout our system went to Bull Run to help prepare the areas for the cabins. We had about twenty hearty souls cutting and chipping downed pine trees that needed to be cleaned up, and doing other work to get the campground ready for the new cabins.

For more information on the cabins, check the sites for both Pohick Bay can Bull Run Campgrounds at our web site:

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Safety is Golden

“Safety is golden” in more than one way. First and foremost, we want our parks to be safe places for the public to come and recreate, and we want to provide a safe working environment for our employees to do their jobs.

On the financial side, when we operate in a safe manner, our insurance premiums go down, saving the Park Authority big dollars. 2005 was our safest year in recent history. We had fewer accidents and lower claims than any year going back to 1991. As a direct result of our good safety record, the Park Authority saved over $90,000 this year in reduced premiums! That is a fantastic record of achievement.

As necessary as insurance is, it is pure overhead. By reducing our annual expense by $90K, we can use that money to better serve the public.

One of the key factors to our great safety record is the rigorous training all of our lifeguards go through to get certified. In addition to our pools and water parks, our employees have been demonstrating very good judgment and an awareness of safety procedures in all of their work.

As a result of the diligent work of Derric Bolton our Safety Officer and all of the professional staff at the Regional Park Authority, we can say we are operating the safest parks we have had in many years.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Here I am paddleing at Fountainhead

Here I am enjoying Fountainhead Regional Park in the fall

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Land Acquisition is key to Parks

Land is at the heart of any park agency. We exist as a park agency to provide the public with places to go and recreate. Much of the land that NVRPA owns today was also acquired with an eye towards environmental protection. We own almost 5,000 acres along the Bull Run and Occoquan rivers. One of the reasons for this land to be preserved was that this body of water serves as the drinking water source for 1,000,000 local residents. We also own considerable acreage along the Potomac River that helps protect drinking water quality.

In 1961 we bought our first 537 acres, which today is Bull Run Park. NVRPA acquired new parkland almost every year through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Our pace of land acquisition slowed significantly in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Today we are re-starting the process of growing our land. We are currently looking at a number of good opportunities. We have several landowners that are talking with us about land donations, and other that we are discussing land purchases with.

When I was with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust we were all about acquiring open space. Most of what we did was as a result of donations of conservation easements, but we also attracted land donations and purchased land at bargain sales. This experience leads me to the understanding that where there is a will there is a way.

NVRPA got out of the habit of acquiring land for a number of reasons: our annual capital budget was not keeping pace with land values, and our aging park facilities needed greater influxes in capital to maintain them. We also saw a number of the grant funding sources that we used heavily in the 60’s and 70’s dry up. While these circumstances have not changed, what has changed is our willingness to aggressively pursue opportunities.

We may not have the Federal Land and Water money that use to help fund purchases of new land, but we do have the best state tax credit for donations of land and easements in Virginia. We also have many generous landowners that want to see a legacy of conservation, and are willing to make generous donations of land.

Seeking land donations is not new to NVRPA, Darrell Winslow, former Executive Director, was a master at cultivating land donations. As a result of his leadership, and good donor cultivation we were able to have the following parks donated:

Temple Hall – Donated by Mrs. Symington
Meadowlark Gardens – Donated by the Means family

Moving forward, acquiring new areas of parkland is going to be a high priority. I have every faith that in life you achieve what you focus on. NVRPA is going to focus on expanding our park system and as a result of that focus we will grow.

Survey will help us to understand park needs, and plan for the future

Over the next year NVRPA will be engaged in a strategic planning process as we chart a course to grow our organization as serve the citizens of Northern Virginia better. This planning process will rely heavily on two foundation's documents. One is the new Mission Statement that expresses what we are about as an agency. The second, will be a park needs assessment for the region. NVRPA has regional put out a request for proposals to survey firms to help us generate this data.

The survey is based on phone interviews with homes selected at random from our member jurisdictions. The interviewer asks the resident a series of questions about what type of park facilities members of their household most use and value. The end result of this, are statistics that we can point to with some certainty that show what the public most want out of their parks.

Over the last four years, phone interview surveys have been conducted on park needs in the City of Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County. These survey were all conducted with a very similar methodology and similar questions. A copy of these survey results is available at the following web sites.

Alexandria City park needs assessment:

Arlington County park needs assessment:

Fairfax County park needs assessment:
(This park needs assessment contains only a sampling of the survey results. For a complete copy of the survey results contact NVRPA for a CD with the complete survey results.)

For this project we would like the following tasks to be completed by the contractor:
· Evaluate existing survey data referenced above and determine the questions that are similar enough to be compared. Use this list of questions as a template for a new questionnaire.
· Use the new questionnaire and conduct a new phone survey of homes in Loudoun County, the City of Falls Church, and Fairfax City.
· Use the existing park needs survey data from Alexandria City, Arlington and Fairfax Counties, compare it with the new survey data and do a statistical analysis for the entire region. This analysis should include information on the rankings of most needed/valued recreational amenities region wide, and differences between needs of the different member jurisdictions, if any.

When we have the final results it will be avaluablealuble planning to tool to help us know where to focus our efforts over next few years.

New Mission Statement is what NVRPA is about

For many decades NVRPA had a mission statement without much mission in it. It was very dry and because of that, we didn't use it often. But clearly we had a great mission, it just wasn't well expressed.

In 1959 when the Regional Park Authority was founded, we were set up primarily to be an open space conservation organization. Over the years we have developed a very diverse group of parks. Our focus has remained unique. One of the things that makes NVRPA different, is that in every one of our member jurisdictions there is a local park agency. These agencies focus on meeting local needs, like where will the local youth soccer team practice, and where will the neighborhood kids find a good playground. These are vitally important needs that must be met, but since there are local park agencies that focus on these needs, the Regional Park authority can focus on providing unique and truly regional park amenities. Just a few examples of amenities that are regional include, the W&OD trail which goes 45 miles and includes 4 of our member jurisdiction, and attracts millions of users each year, the Sandy Run rowing facility that provides a world class scholastic rowing venue for many high schools throughout the area, and our two family campgrounds that offer the public a great way to get outside and experience nature.

The Mission Statement recently adopted by the NVRPA Board reflects our roots as a conservation organization, and our focus on park amenities that meet a more regional need.

Mission Statement
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority enhances the communities of Northern Virginia and enriches the lives of their citizens through the conservation of regional natural and cultural resources. It provides diverse regional recreational and educational opportunities, and fosters an understanding of the relationships between people and their environment.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

First remarks to NVRPA staff a new Ex. Dir. 7/18/05

Remarks to NVRPA Headquarters Staff

By Paul Gilbert on July 18, 2005

While many of our already know me, for those that do not my name is Paul Gilbert and I am the new Executive Director. I am very excited to work for such a great organization.

For five years I have been on the Park Authority’s Board, as one of the Fairfax County representatives, as a result I am very familiar with our parks, and our financial strengths and weaknesses. We have a fantastic organization, one that really serves the public well. Mr. Mess and the other founders of the Authority were true visionaries when they set up this agency on the regional model.

As the new Executive Director, I am looking forward to working with you on expanding the Authority. I would like to see us enter a new era of growth, where we are expanding our land holdings, our facilities and our programs. My guess is most of us would like to be part of a growing organization, where new ideas are encouraged, and where we all strive to achieve our goals and vision in the most efficient and effective manner.

As you may know, I was formerly the President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. This was a private non-profit organization with a mission to conserve land. We conserved sixty properties throughout Northern Virginia, including about 800 acres that buffered public parkland. While our focus was natural areas, I have also been involved in some significant historic preservation efforts.

Several years ago, I initiated a recreational component of the Trust called “Adventures in Conservation” that includes regular kayak tours, guided hikes, birding, tree planting and other hands-on activities. This is all just to say, the mission of the Conservation Trust and the Park Authority are very similar: outdoor recreation and conservation of our natural and historic resources.

Another similarity is that the Conservation Trust is partially funded by Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria. So I am very familiar with the local governments of many of our member jurisdictions.

Before the Trust, I spent almost a decade in private industry, and before that I worked in State Government. So I have been a part of large organizations as well as small.

My management style is to have clear job descriptions and mutually agreeable performance expectation. Then my job is to see that you have the necessary tools and resources to do your job effectively. And your job is to meet or exceed those performance expectations. I am not a micro-manager. I am here to keep the organization focused on achieving its mission and goals as well as to help to you, when you need it.

Finally, I want to congratulate all of you for helping to turn an important corner for the Park Authority. Last year at this time we were about $400K in the red, and the year before that we were close to $200K in the red. The good news is that you have just ended FY’05 with a surplus! That kind of turn around is big news. We owe a lot to good weather this spring, but we also owe a lot to the hard work of everyone at the Park Authority. As a result of your good performance, the Board has approved a 3% COLA increase for everyone!

We are not totally out of the woods yet. We will need to put a significant amount of our surplus back into our reserves that we tapped last year to make ends meet. We need to find new sources of revenue, so we are not so vulnerable if there is a season or two of bad weather. If you have any ideas about how the Authority can bring in more revenue, or other issues related to the Authority, I am very interested in hearing them.

I am truly excited at the opportunity to work with you, and continue to grow this great organization.