Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Financial Transparency is Important

After the scandals of Enron and WorldCom Congress enacted Sarbanes Oxley, legislation that put a lot more focus on financial accountability for publicly traded corporations.

While Sarbanes Oxley does not directly apply to government agencies, financial accountability is every bit as important. The public should be able to know that publicly funded agencies are using their resources wisely. While it is not required, many agencies post their audited financial statements and budgets on-line so all can see. If you find an agency that does not do this, I would encourage you to ask for this level of transparency.

The idea of financial transparency is that nothing is hidden. If organizations are well run, there is no need to hide financial information.

We recently concluded our Fiscal Year 2010 audit, and our auditors met with both our Audit Committee and Board to report their findings. Once again we received an "unqualified" report, meaning that our books and financial controls were in good shape. In addition to our auditors saying we are running a tight ship, the Government Financial Officers Association has for a number of years awarded us with the "Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting," their highest award for financial reporting.

As great as it is to have such a good audit, a second challenge is to make financial information accessible and understandable to all. Six years ago our budget consisted of spreadsheet which while they were accurate, were not very easy to understand and use. We undertook a several year process of creating a budget that was easy to read, conveyed the strategic priorities of the organization, and could be used as a tool to record and track performance measures. The result of this process was great. Our budget today is a "go to" document for all kinds of organizational issues. If you want to know how many children went to the Carlyle House Historic Park as a part of school groups (1,182), or how many boat launches took place at Pohick Bay Regional Park (6,365), or what the goals and objectives of any park are, the budget is the place to find the information.

As a result of all the work we put into making our budget an understandable and useful document, we have also won the "Distinguished Budget Presentation" award from the Government Financial Officers Association for several years. This is their highest award for budgets. 

If you would like to see either our Audited Financial Statements or Budgets for the last several years they are available at the following link:

Financial transparency is important for society.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Largest All LED Lightshow in the Universe

The 2.5 mile drive through holiday light show at Bull Run Regional Park has been a mainstay of the Northern Virginia area for 12 years. Five years ago the show became all LED, and since that time we have added new LED light displays every year. This year there is a new element of the show that is animated to music.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest all LED light show in the UNIVERSE!!! A big claim for a big light show. And until we hear from another planets that they have a larger all LED show, we will stick to our claim.

LED lights use only a 10th of the electricity that normal incandescent bulbs use. So in addition to being the largest all LED show on earth, it is also good for the earth.

Around 100,000 people go through the show each year. And this year may be the biggest year ever. With a light snow on the ground the light show is more magical than ever.

This year the show is open until January 9th so it is not too late to pack up the family and take in the great holiday show.

For more information see:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kayak Rentals Continue to Soar

Kayak Rentals at Fountainhead Regional Park
 For five years in a row kayak rentals have increased dramatically at both Foutainhead Regional Park in Fairfax Station and Pohick Bay in Lorton Virginia. 2010 saw an increase of over 20%.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has rented Kayaks at Pohick Bay Regional Park for almost 10 years, but it was just over 5 years ago they were introduced at Fountainhead, and just this last year that kayak rentals were introduced at Occoquan Regional Park.

Canoes have always been popular, but this popularity has been flat for many years. Today kayaks out-rent canoes by over two to one. We ramped up the kayak offerings a few years ago, because we saw statistics that kayaks were outselling canoes significantly. We realized if this is a measure of popularity of these boats we need to offer more of them at more locations.

For the 2011 summer season we will introduce the latest addition to paddling sports the stand-on-top board. This is similar to a surf board or sit-on-top kayak that one stands on and paddles with a single paddle with a long shaft. The stand-on-top paddle boards will start at Pohick Bay Regional Park.

I have been asked by a number of friends what kind of kayak they should buy, and while I always have free advice, one of my suggestions is always to rent some different boats and see how you like them. This will give the new kayaker some idea of what they should look for. Some of the great advantages of renting boats when you want them is that your cost is much lower, you do not need to find a place to store the boat when it is not in use, and you do not need all the roof rack attachments that go with transporting a boat. You just show up, get your gear and launch the boat that is already by the water's edge.

With snow on the ground as I write this, I thought it would warm you up to think about next summer and gliding along in the paddle craft of your choice at one of your favorite Regional Parks.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Parks = Tourism = Strong Economy

Tourism is big business and one of the best kinds of economic activity to strengthen an entire community. When people visit a place for leisure or business they stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in local stores, all while seeing the sights of the area.

In Northern Virginia tourism contributed $7.597 Billion to the local economy in 2008! This is why tourism is Virginia's #2 industry (behind agriculture) and why Northern Virginia is one of the most important engines for tourism in the Commonwealth.

What makes people select an area for travel is mostly affected by what there is to do in that area...what are the attractions? And this is where parks come in. Particularly National, and Regional Parks which make up some of the most important historic sites, and unique features in the Northern Virginia region. The list of sites is extensive but a few examples include:
    Carlyle House
  • Mt.Vernon, home of George Washington and the biggest tourist magnet in Northern Virginia, while not technically a park, it functions much like one and has set a new standard for engaging the public in history.
  • Carlyle House in Alexandria is another fantastic colonial era mansion that saw George Washington as a frequent guest, and was the site where the French and Indian War was planned by General Braddock. This site is owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
  • Manassas Battlefield, site of two of the most important battle of the Civil War, this is a property of the National Park Service. This and other sites will be the focus of more attention as we remember the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in 2011.
  • W&OD Trail
  • Balls Bluff Battlefield outside of Leesburg is another of the sites of early conflict during the Civil War. The political fall out of this battle had a lasting effect on the Union Army's command structure. This site is also owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
  •  Truly unique features like the 45 mile W&OD Trail also attract thousands of people from outside the area to come and ride what many consider the best rails-to-trails trail in the nation. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority developed this attraction during the 1970s and 1980s.
Developing new attractions continues. At Meadowlark Gardens, work is well underway creating a Korean Bell Garden that is unique in North America. This attraction should help attract tourist both nationally and internationally. Studies have found the some international tourist spend up to 10 times as much as domestic tourist.

Another project in development that will be a tourist attraction is the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial at Occoquan Regional Park. This will be the only real memorial to the sacrifices of the women that were imprisoned in 1917-18 for protesting in favor of the right to vote for women. This unique memorial will be an attraction for tourist from around the country.