Monday, March 29, 2010

Revenue Development & Managment School

I recently returned from the NRPA (National Recreation and Park Association) Revenue Development and Management School at Oglebay Resort in West Virginia. This is a professional development school that is celebrating its 45th year. What it really amount to is a business school for park professionals.

It is a week long school with a two year curriculum. To assure that it maintains high academic standards Dr. Phil Rea, the former Director of the Park & Rec Program at North Carolina State University, advises the school.

In the course of the two year program students learn everything they need to put together a comprehensive business plan for a new or significantly changed park, or program. The capstone project is a written business plan that teams of 5-6 students put together and then they stand before a mock City Council and do a power point presentation where they lay out their plan and field questions. It is fantastic real world experience.

I have the honor of being one of seven Regents for the school. The Regents are park directors that serve as both the board of directors for the school as well as the instructors. The Regents are greatly helped by two leading professional that are selected as "externs" as well as Dr. Rea. This year I taught classes on developing marketing plans, innovation, as well as co-taught a class in contracting services and co-lead the first year student’s project.

Both first and second year classes were great. The parks professional that are sent to this program by their agencies are the top notch go-getters that are looking to hone their business skills to advance their agencies and invest in their own careers, and professional development.

In my planning for the course on marketing, I ran across a quote from Dr. John Crompton a leading thinking in the park field. Crompton was recounting how shortly after he came to the US from England, he was asked to give a presentation on marketing at one of the national conferences for park officials and almost no one showed up, not understanding what marketing had to do with parks. That was 1976.

Today the successful park agencies are the ones with good business acumen. In addition to the greater need to generate non-tax dollar funds for operations, there are simply many more ways for the public to spend their leisure time than in the past. If we are going to attract the public to spend more time outside engaged in healthy activities, we need to sell what we have to offer and not assume that the public will simply “find” our parks and facilities as they have in the past.

Interestingly even in a year when most public park agencies have been cutting their training budgets in reaction to the recession, the Revenue School saw significantly increased attendance this year. I think this reflects the understanding that many park agencies are developing that to succeed they need to know how to run their operations in an increasingly professional and business like manner.

For more information on the Revenue Development and Management School see the web site for the school at:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Udall and Regional Parks

Stewart Udall Looking for Future Parkland from a Helicopter

Stewart Udall recently passed away. The Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy/Johnson years is best know for saving large areas of the West and expanding National Parks.

A story that has not been told is his role in growing regional parks outside of Washington D.C. in Northern Virginia.

Walter Mess Chairman Emeritus of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority who is now 97 years old told me some of this story just this week. And Rob Hartwell, son of our former Vice Chair Elizabeth Harwell confirmed the details.

Udall often traveled via helicopter because it offered such a great view of the land. Around 1964 or 65 a group of dignitaries were going to meet Secretary Udall at Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County Virginia for a helicopter tour of Northern Virginia. Walter Mess and Elizabeth Hartwell who was the Vice Chair of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority at the time were determined to get Udall's ear about land conservation.

Walter served in both the European and Burma/China theaters of WWII in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) so he had military credentials to get Liz Hartwell and him on the base. They got on the helicopter before the rest of the group and as they began flying around Northern Virginia, Hartwell and Mess began telling Secretary Udall all about the land that they there flying over and their efforts to acquire the most sensitive areas as regional parks. A bond was formed and Stewart Udall went on to help the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority with millions in land acquisition funding that helped purchase many of the Regional Parks like Pohick Bay, the land along the Occoquan and the W&OD Trail, in the years that followed.

As we enjoy these places today, it is interesting to think that we may only know a little about the perseverance, dedication, and energy that it took to make these areas parks in the first place.
Just about every park has a story and a hero or two that helped to make that area a place where the public can engage with nature.

Elizabeth Hartwell and Walter Mess

Friday, March 05, 2010

New Parkland at Gilbert's Corner

At the January Board Meeting of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority the new parkland that NVRPA has been acquiring in Loudoun County received its new names.
The historic Mt. Zion Church property on the south side of Rt. 50 will be called "Mt. Zion Historic Park." This building was built in 1851 and served as a hospital after the Battle of Aldie during the Civil War. It was also the first rendezvous site for Mosby's Rangers and one that they used numerous times.
The land to the North of Rt. 50 is called "Gilbert's Corner Regional Park" and includes 155 acres of rolling country side.
Less than one mile away is Aldie Mill Historic Park which NVRPA acquired in 2006 from the Virginia Outdoor Foundation.
Reflecting on the Park Needs survey we did in 2007, it told us that the number one park and recreation desire of the public was to acquire more parkland and open space. In the same survey 75% of the public express a great need for trails and 59% had a need for historic sites. In a similar study conducted by the Commonwealth in 2006 (Virginia Outdoor Survey), "walking for pleasure" and "visiting historic sites" were to two most popular outdoor activities of the public. We certainly are preserving a lot of important history with these properties and one of our goals is to expand our trail network in this area. Building on the system of over 100 miles of trails we currently have.