Friday, June 29, 2007

Attracting More Park Users & Winning National Recognition

This week I traveled to Boston along with Jim Mayer (NVRPA Vice Chair) and his wife Marjorie to receive an award in the Better Government Competition hosted by the Pioneer Institute. Pioneer is a public policy think-tank dedicated to promoting lean and efficient government.

We won our award primarily because NVRPA has been very effective in the last two years in competing for the public's leisure time, and attracting more visitors to our Regional Parks. This may not sound like a big deal, but there is a national trend away from people spending time outdoors.

Richard Louv's best selling book Last Child in the Woods focused attention on how today's children are not spending time outside engaging with nature, like previous generations have. The National Park Service release a study last year that showed a 26.5% reduction in camping in National Parks over the last 13 years. And the University of Maryland released a study recently showing a 50% drop in the amount of time children are spending in unstructured outdoor activities compared with a few years ago.

This is a significant societal issue, and for NVRPA whose operations are 80% self funded through user fees, it was a serious financial issue as well. We faced serious financial challenges in 2003 and 2004 as a result of lower park visitation, 2005 showed modest improvement, and in 2006 & 2007 we have been growing our user base rapidly.

To do this we needed to approach the delivery of conservation and recreation services in a business like manner, and actively compete for the public's limited leisure time.

With both our two family campgrounds, and our three golf courses we followed a very effective formula:

  1. We invested in facility improvements that the public valued. At our campgrounds we have added rustic cabins, better utility hook ups, and renovated restrooms. At our golf courses we have added a significant amount of new drainage to improve the course conditions, and we have added new tee boxes and made other improvements.

  2. We offered the public a very good value. Our golf membership program offers unlimited play for the avid golfer at a great price. Our campgrounds are nicer than ever and are price at the low end of the market.

  3. We marketed our offerings like never before. We created great new brochures that we put at all the Virginia Visitor Centers, and many other high traffic areas. We did targeted advertising in golf and camping publications.

The results of this formula for success were fantastic. Our campgrounds saw a 13% increase in usage in 2006, and our golf play was up 12% in the same year. Overall all of our park operations saw an increase of over 10% in public usage during a time when all the national studies are showing the trend going in the opposite direction.

It is critically important for ones mental and physical health at any age to get outdoor. It is also critical to a park agency like the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to have the public utilizing our parks.

Please visit a park this week, and tell a friend what a wonderful experience you had.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Draft Horses at Temple Hall

Temple Hall Regional Park is a historic farm park just outside of Leesburg on Rt. 15. One of the great new attractions at Temple Hall has been the introduction of draft horses that we use to take park patrons on wagon rides. It is a great way to step back in time and have an experience similar to one that you might have had one hundred and fifty years ago.

Temple Hall was built by Temple Mason, one of the nephews of George Mason in 1810. The farm was donated to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority by Mrs. Symington to be used as a site for education about our farming past.

This week, 800 Loudoun County fourth graders came to Temple Hall to learn about farming.

The Birth of a New Water Park

On Memorial Day Weekend 2007, NVRPA opened a redesigned and rennovated water park at Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington VA.

For decades that has been a popular pool, mini-golf, batting cage, and picnic areas at Upton Hill. What users experience now is the result of almost $2 million in rennovations to the pool. It is now much more of a water park. While we kept the popular lap swimming pool, we completely rennovated the tot pool, and added two new water slides, rennovated the main pool area, and added a great new water play area. The end result is a much more exciting and engaging attraction than we have ever had there.

This year's Memorial Day weekend saw almost twice as many park users at the pool than the preceeding Memorial Day weekend!

NVRPA runs five aquatics facilities, including ones at Algonkian Regional Park, Bull Run Regional Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park, and our flagship waterpark at Cameron Run Regional Park.