Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Largest All LED Lightshow in the Universe

Tis the season to visit the Festival of Lights at the Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville VA. This acclaimed show features over 100,000 LED lights with great animation, and themes throughout the 2.5 mile drive through show. It is a huge hit with kids of all ages and those that are young at heart. In just the last two days the two articles below came out about this great holiday tradition.

Article from the Chantilly Patch:

Article from the Fairfax Times:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Barbara Tulipane inspires the next generation of professionals

Barbara Tulipane talking to Park & Rec. College Students

Barbara Tulipane, the CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association was a guest speaker at George Mason University talking to college student studying in the School of Recreation, Health & Tourism.

Barbara engaged the student in a discussion about the future of the Park & Recreation field, and where they may want to apply their talents in the coming years.

When covering what it take to be a successful CEO she had the following points of wisdom (paraphrased):

A good CEO must...
  • be a leader and a follower (in different settings).
  • be a futurist.
  • be a relationship builder.
  • have industry knowledge.
  • be a spokes person.
  • have a good understanding of financials.
  • be motivational.
  • be an able operator.
  • have courage to make decisions.
It was a great opportunity for these future professionals to be able to engage and learn from a top national leader in the field of Park & Recreation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

High praise for park district forum

The conference that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority hosted this fall for park districts was a great success, and a wonderful team effort. Below is a letter from the General Manager of East Bay Regional Park District in California. East Bay is likely the largest regional park system in the country, and one of the very best. Praise from East Bay is high praise indeed!

I am very proud of all the NVRPA staff and board that played a role in making this event a success.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great fall colors

It is a spectacular fall! We have had several recent years when the leaves have not turned their peak color, bu this year the colors have been fantastic. Below are two images I have taken in the last week.

Gilberts Corner Regional Park across from Mt. Zion on Rt. 50

Pohick Bay Regional Park in the Lorton/Mason Neck area

Monday, October 31, 2011

Budget Message for FY'2013

In October of every year the Northern Virginia Regoinal Park Authority (NVRPA) adopts its budget for the next fiscal year. This early adoption allows this information to be considered as the six member jurisdiction develop their budgets for the coming year. Below is the cover letter of the budget. Budgets, and audits are posted on to provide maximum financial transparency.

NVRPA is one of the most efficient public agencies in the country. And providing regional attractions that are central to the tourism economy of Northern Virginia.

October 2011

Budget Message from NVRPA’s Executive Director

I am pleased to present the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) Budget for Fiscal Year 2013 (July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013).

Despite three years of economic recession, a focus on efficiency and a commitment to our mission and strategic plan have kept NVRPA in a positive position. Our continued focus on achieving results that support our mission and enhance our community drove the development of our FY2013 budget, which represents a total Operating Budget of $20,748,582, and a Capital Budget of $4,940,253.


NVRPA is one of the most cost effective park agencies in the nation. For FY2013, NVRPA will support 83% of its operating costs with enterprise operations (non-tax revenues). The percentage of taxpayer support for operations has gone from 20.01% in FY2005 to 17.11% in FY2013.

% of operating costs covered by enterprise revenues
(2005, 2009, 2013)

These remarkable statistics reflect several factors. First, the taxpayer support from our member jurisdictions has not kept pace with either inflation or population growth over the last several years. Due to the recession, we have not adjusted the per capita appropriations rate to keep pace with inflation since 2008, and we have not updated the appropriations to account for population growth for three years in a row. Secondly, during the same time we have continued to work on enhancing our services to the public, which has resulted in the growth and diversification of our enterprise revenues.

Salaries as a % of operating expenses
(2005, 2009, 2013)

Another important indicator is our significant gain in productivity. In FY2005, salaries made up 54.9% of our operating costs, and, in the FY2013 budget, salaries are only 49.2% of operating costs. This represents at least a 5.7% increase in productivity. We have grown our services and operations significantly faster than our staffing and related expenses.

NVRPA has a long history of delivering conservation and recreation facilities and programs in a very business-like manner, with a high focus on innovation and efficiency. Continuing this trend into FY2013 will be a 1.23% decrease in General Fund revenues, and a 4.26% increase in Enterprise Fund revenues.

Focus on Mission:

“Conservation of regional natural and cultural resources” is a central part of our mission. Over the last few years we have added over 450 acres of new parkland. We anticipate that new parks like White’s Ford and Gilbert’s Corner will have basic facilities to allow greater public access in FY2013. By FY2013 we also anticipate that we will add two new properties to our operations, the Webb Sanctuary in Clifton and the Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg, as a result of a new partnership with the Audubon Naturalist Society. The operational revenues and expenses for these two sites are included in the FY2013 budget.

Providing “diverse regional recreational and educational opportunities” is another important part of our mission. In support of that, we are anticipating a more than 20% increase in special events revenues for FY2013. Included in this increase is a new holiday light display that will be installed at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, as well as projected increases at the Bull Run annual Festival of Lights and a variety of smaller increases related to events in a number of parks. Our plans for 2013 include creating a “diverse regional recreational” experience at Upton Hill Regional Park with a high adventure ropes course. Regional “educational opportunities” will be expanded with War of 1812 interpretation at the Carlyle House Historic Park. And, we hope to better connect the region’s trail network in a number of ways, including a connector trail between the W&OD Trail and Meadowlark Gardens, and a trail development partnership involving the City of Fairfax and other partners.

Our strategic plan, which was adopted in late 2007, has been a driving force in all that we have done over the last few years. Integration of this plan with our annual budget, and our high focus on budget transparency, have resulted in our budgets winning the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards for the last four years. Early in FY2013, NVRPA will adopt a new strategic plan that we are currently working on, and that will guide our actions and promote further accomplishments in the years to come.

Economic Engine for the Region:

While some local parks are designed to primarily serve the needs of their neighborhoods, the Regional Park system is focused on “destination sites.” As such, we contribute to the backbone of the tourism economy for Northern Virginia. Tourism is the Number Two industry in Virginia. In FY2012, NVRPA hosted a national conference that contributed around $350,000 to the local economy, and organized the Battle of Ball’s Bluff re-enactment, attracting thousands of people to travel to our area and contributed more than $1,000,000 to the region’s economy. In FY2013, NVRPA will contribute millions to the local tourism economy, helping the region recover from the recession. These contributions will include the following:

• Over 400 premier events, receptions and weddings at NVRPA locations

• First full year of the internationally unique Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Gardens, attracting visitors from around the world

• Attracting over 15,000 spectators from all over the east coast to the rowing regattas at the world class facilities at Sandy Run Regional Park

• 22,000 camp site rentals, serving tourists from all over the nation

• Continued leadership role in promoting the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War, with numerous programs, exhibits and activities to attract visitors

• Events and exhibits to attract historic tourism for the War of 1812

• Promotion of the W&OD Trail as a cycling tourist destination of national significance

• Continued growth of numerous destination events at the Bull Run Special Events Center and numerous other parks within the NVRPA system

The NVRPA Board and staff have been working on a series of new facilities to be constructed over the next several years, which will expand the great attractions our region has to offer and contribute more to our economy.

For a public investment of just $4.63 per capita ($2.0626 for operating & $2.57 for capital) the citizens of our region benefit from nearly 11,000 acres of regional parks, much of which buffer our major rivers, and provide remarkable nature and historical experiences. This investment also supports and enhances the local economy, and is leveraged by one of the most efficient and entrepreneurial public agencies in the nation.


Paul Gilbert

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ball's Bluff Re-enactment Huge Success

October 22, 2011 Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park in Leesburg Virginia saw a conflict between blue and grey clad forces like it had not seen in 150 years. The re-enactment of the 150th anniversary of the battle included 1,000 re-enactors and 2,000 spectators.

Spectators parked at Morven Park and there were able to see living history camps, sutler shops, vintage photography, as well as the Morven Park mansion with an exhibit of Civil War relics many of them from Ball's Bluff.

Spectators were transferred by buses to the battlefield park which is owned and operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Park staff and volunteers managed all the logistics in a seamless manner.
The battle itself took place in the same 12 acre clearing in the woods where the battle in October of 1861 took place. This event is one of the hallmark events of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and quite possibly the best battle re-enactment in recent history. It is the best for the following reasons:

• It took place on the actual battlefield. This is extremely rare since the National Park Service does not allow this and they own most of the major battlefields. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is not bound by those rules, so you had the rare occurrence of a 150th anniversary battle re-enactment taking place on the actual battlefield.

• Because Ball's Bluff took place in a relatively small clearing in the woods, you have a very intimate setting for a battle re-enactment. Since many Civil War battles took place on vast open fields, it can be hard for spectators to get a good feel for what took place, while looking through binoculars at units in the distance. At Ball's Bluff all the action took place just a matter of tens of yards in front of the spectators.

• All the considerable logistics of transporting 3,000 people from one site to another, and having everything work smoothly went off with great precision.

In addition to the re-enactment and the other attractions mentioned, on Sunday a delegation from Oregon presented a resolution passed by the Oregon State Legislature recognizing Senator Edward Baker who was killed in this battle. That evening there was an illumination commemorating the fallen in this battle.

It was a spectacular weekend of events commemorating one of the important early battles in the American Civil War.

For a nice video on the historical significance of Ball's Bluff see:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reviews of Lead Like a General

Lead Like a General was recently selected as a 2012 Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. This is a very nice honor.
My book on Leadership and the Civil War has now been reviewed in a number of media outlets. The latest is an interview done by the Civil War Trust. Below are the links to the newspaper and magazine reviews that have been published.

The book is Lead Like a General  and is available on Amazon Book at, and numerous historic sites including:
  • Carlyle House, Alexandria
  • Historic Blenheim, City of Fairfax
  • Manassas Museum, City of Manassas
  • Oatlands, Leesburg-Loudoun

April 17, 2012
Lead Like a GeneralCivil War Trust's interview with author Paul Gilbert

Leading Like a General

Lessons from Civil War leaders inspire parks director to write book

By Victoria Ross

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Centreville Patch

Paul Gilbert talks about his new book that offers leadership advice using examples from some of the good, and bad, leaders during the Civil War era.

By Mike Conway
August 24, 201

Lead Like a General: Modern Research on Leadership as seen through the Civil War
July 2011

Park Authority Chief’s Book Looks at Leadership Through Eyes of Generals

by BRIAN TROMPETER, Staff Writer

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs on Marketing

In the class I am teaching at GMU yesterday the lesson was on developing a marketing plan. With the news of Steve Jobs passing, I started the class with a great video clip of Jobs talking about marketing (link below).

We proceeded with the planned lecture on marketing plan development but with the measuring stick of "what would Steve say about this?" Jobs was a genius on many fronts. Most people focus on the many technology developments, but he was just as brilliant in understanding the essence of marketing. A key component was marketing values, and not getting caught up in the spec sheet for the product. People are seeking out experiences and values, not products.

The world needs more people of Steve's vision, and billiance! More people that "think different."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Nature Nuts in the News

Last week the Fairfax Station/Clifton/Lorton version of the Connection Newspaper ran a feature article about the Nature Nuts program of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

This is a region wide program that aims to provide half a million children with a meaningful outdoors/nature experience over the next five years through the regional park system.

A link to this article can be seen at:

In the August issue of Park and Recreation Magazine (a national publication) the NVRPA Nature Nuts program was also featured in an article.

In Richard Louv's best selling book, Last Child in the Woods he coined the term "nature deficit disorder" for the lack of time that children today spend in nature. This disconnection from nature is at the root of many physical and mental health issues. The Nature Nuts program aims to address this issue in very tangible ways.

From programs focused on children to efforts aimed at encouraging families to spend more time in natural settings like camping, boating, and hiking, this initiative expands successful existing programs and facilities to have a better effect on this national issue.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Conference of Park Officials Helps Economy

Sun Gazette Newspaper
Park Officials Use Fairfax for National Conference

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 7:13 am

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority hosted the 40th annual Special Parks District Forum from Sept. 25-28, an event that brought nearly 120 parks officials from the U.S. and Canada to visit the local area.

Participants toured Mount Vernon, Manassas Battlefield, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Pohick Bay and other local facilities as part of their trip.

The forum included topics “like how best to connect children and nature, the latest in environmental land management and exciting new trends in creating recreational experiences that are drawing more of the public than ever before to our parks,” said Paul Gilbert, executive director of the regional park authority.

The event generated an estimated $348,300 for the local economy, according to an analysis by Visit Fairfax.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Special Park Districts Forum

We just completed a 3.5 day conference of park officials from all over North America. This gathering has been going on for 40 years, and this year it was our honor to host it. With over 100 people as excited about parks as we are, it was a great time. A time of learning, networking, sharing successes and for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority a little showing off.

From the perspective of NVRPA it was a great teambuilding process. Today as I reflected back on the last few days I sent the following message to all of our employees:

Dear NVRPA Staff,

I would like to express how proud I am of everyone!

We just completed the Special Park Districts Forum, a conference for 100 park leaders from all over North America. We had participants from as far away as Vancouver Canada, and many points along the way. These people all came from agencies with great facilities and employees. Everyone was impressed with the amazing park system that is NVRPA!

Every one of you that helped out in any way brought your A game to the task. Our parks, facilities, programs and staff have never looked as good as we did this week! We showed a large cross section of some of the best park agencies in the field that NVRPA is among the best park systems in the world. I think we may be the very best!

I could make a very long list of all of you that did a great job. You all know what you did, and your contribution was fantastic. I saw our team working together in new ways. I saw a lot of initiative being taken to make every element of this conference just as great as it could be. And I saw a lot of very proud staff!

Thank you all so much for what you do everyday, but particularly for stepping up and making this conference such a shining moment for our organization.

Paul Gilbert

Below are some of the images from this great event:

At Brambleton

Board Members, Barry Buschow, Jeff Tarbert & Michael Nardolilli at Brambleton

Bryan McFerren on pesticides

Kieth Tomlinson on connecting children and nature
Matt Woods showing Pirate's Cove Waterpark
Participants from Califoria visiting Mt. Vernon
Dustin Betthauser & Eric Ferguson on Campground Management
Hiking the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail
Learning new things about American history
Discussing regional opportunities

paddling Pohick Bay Marsh
Touring Manassas Battlefield
Civil War Re-enactors at Bull Run
Barry Biggar on the Tourism value of parks
Jim Morgan on the Battle of Balls Bluff
Giant pumkin blasters at Temple Hall Farm
Touring the river front cottages at Algonkian

Learning about the Suffragist Memorial at Occoquan
Thanking our sponsors
A few of the many, many people that worked to make it a success


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

3 new awards for NVRPA

The judges have tallied their scores and the awards are in. At the 2011 Virgina Recreation and Park Society Conference in Norfolk this week, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority came away with three top awards. 
The awards were won for our renovations that resulted in creating Volcano Island Waterpark at Algonkian. This waterpark features the only semi-functional volcano in Northern Virginia, and has attracted many more park users than ever before.
We also received recognition of a great promotional flyer made for Atlantis Waterpark at Bull Run Regional Park.
And finally our 2010 Annual Report that doubled as a 2011 calendar won the gold.
It is a great honor to work for such a great organization and to have such an innovative and motivated team to work with.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Park, Health & Tourism Professional of Tomorrow

Todd Hafner Speaking to Students from GMU
This fall I am teaching a class at George Mason University on the administration of park, health & tourism organizations. Several expert guest speaker are schedule to share their real life experience is the great class. Today Todd Hafner, Director of Planning and Development spoke to the class about capital budgeting, and the development of capital projects. As someone with over 20 years of experience in park related capital development, Todd brought a world of great experience to the class.

Todd Hafner covering the challenges of large captial projects

The students, most of them Juniors and Seniors at GMU were engaged by his great presentation and gave him a warm round of applause at the end of class.

These students are thinking, writing and learning a great deal about organizations and how they operate this term.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Storms impact W&OD Trail, Occoquan and other parks

The record rain fall over the last few days has created a number of issues within the parks of the Northern Virginia Regional Park System.

In the Vienna area Piney Branch has eroded the bank and created a situation where the end of the pavement has a steep drop off in places. The damaged areas are marked. Please use caution riding or walking through this area to stay away from the eroded bank.

Occoquan Regional Park is open, but the entrance road is down to one lane due to storm damage.

Use great caution on any and all trails, because bridges and crossing may be damage. Near Algonkian Regional Park the bridge over Sugarland Run on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is damaged and will need repair in the weeks ahead.

One area of W&OD Trail damage

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nature Nuts gets National Recognition

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation, are working together help get children outside and in nature. The physical and mental health benefits as well as the learning that children are able to do when they spend time in nature is well documents. Just as well documented is the fact that children are spending less time outdoors.

To address this issue the Nature Nuts program has been developed with a goal of facilitating a meaningful nature experience for half a million children over the next five years through the Northern Virginia Regional Park System.

This program just received national recognition in the form of a great article in Park and Recreation Magazine. This is the publication of the National Recreation and Park Association and features the Nature Nuts program on pages 23 and 24 of the newly released August 2011 issue.

Link to the article:

Addressing what best selling author Richard Louv called the "Nature Deficit Disorder" is one of the great challenges for organizations involved in managing public lands and engaging the public in the appreciation of nature. Engaging children with nature is the subject of one of the session at the 40th annual Special Park Districts Forum that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is hosting next month for park officials from all over North America. We will be highlighting the challenges and opportunities of this effort during this session.

With a limited number of days that registration is open for the Special Park District Forum, register soon and join us on September 25-28 as we work on this and other issues.

The registration link is:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on Vikings

Around this time last year, I wrote a piece for Park and Recreation Magazine about the need to develop bold, innovative organizations in our field. With the recession, a business as usual attitude would not work. I used the metphor of Vikings vs Farmers. The article prompted a lot of thinking about how organizations can thrive in hard times. Three other articles playing off this them were written in the months that followed, all with interesting perspectives.

As I am preparing to teach a class this fall at George Mason University in the administration of Park, Health and Tourism organizations, one of the assignments will be to write a paper on these four articles.

Gilbert, Paul (September 2010), Are You a Viking or a Farmer, Park & Recreation Magazine

McCarthy, Michael (October 2010), Valhalla, Park and Recreation Magazine

Lovell, Tom (January 2011), A Crisis of Knowledge, Park and Recreation Magazine

Ferris, Randolph (April 2011), Secrets of Farmers and Vikings, Park and Recreation Magazine

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Ways to Experience Ball's Bluff Battlefield

The students of Smarts Mill Middle School in Leesburg became historians and movie producers and stars as part of a project sponsored by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground.

In the spring the student studied the Battle of Balls Bluff. They did primary research and then wrote directed and stared in their own historic movies. These movies can be seen at the link below.

This link is also on the web site for Balls Bluff Battlefield Park, a property of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This project was a fantastic way to engage young people in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and make it fun and engaging for them.

Another great way to experience the history of this site will be the battle reenactment that will take place on the actual battlefield this fall on October 22nd. The link to this event is:, on this site is a link for even more information on this event.

Planning for the battle reenactment has been underway for over a year. It will be a one of a kind event, 150 years in the making. If you would like a glimps at what it must have been like during the Civil War, this is an event not to miss.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Waterparks are more popular than ever

Waterparks of the Northern Virginia Regional Park System are more popular than they have ever been. Over the last five years we have renovated every one of them, and the public have flocked to them. With great theme that are fun for the whole family, and convenient  locations throughout Northern Virginia, these waterparks offer a great close to home alternative to a larger vacation. As such that are a fantastic value. In many cases a day at one of these fun filled waterparks is the same or less than going to the movies.

In the summer of 2010 we hit a new high in waterpark popularity. But now that we are most of the way through the summer 2011 season, we can see that the popularity of these great waterparks keeps climbing. Below are the numbers indicating the year to date increase in waterpark attendance compared to the record breaking 2010 season. If you have not tries all of these waterparks yet this summer, do not miss your change.

Cameron "Great Waves Waterpark"
 6% increase

Upton Hills "Ocean Dunes Waterparks"
5% increase

Algonkian "Volcano Island Waterpark"
12% increase

Pohick Bay "Pirate's Cove Waterpark"
6% increase

Bull Run "Atlantis Waterpark"
9% increase