Friday, March 02, 2012


Part of the National Park and Recreation Association (NRPA) Gold Metal Nomination that we recently submitted was a question asking for example of how some challenges have been addressed using partnerships. The Regional Park Authority is an organization founded on a partnership principal, and we have far too many to list them all. Below are two that we highlighted for this nomination:

Hemlock Overlook Regional Park:

For 23 years, NVRPA had partnered with George Mason University to operate a ropes course, environmental education and team building center at a 400 acre property called Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. In 2009, George Mason University withdrew from the partnership. Fifth and sixth grade field trips to Hemlock had become a right of passage for thousands of children in Northern Virginia, and the prospect of Hemlock closing created a tidal wave of messages to NVRPA and elected officials, urging a solution that would keep this unique and valued facility open.

NVRPA used a relatively new procurement process set up to create public/private partnerships and after many months of process and negotiations, selected a private firm with an excellent background in experiential learning called Adventure Links to operate Hemlock under agreement with NVRPA.

Blythe Russian, Superintendent of Operations with NVRPA, took the leadership role in shepherding this complicated process and communicating with all the stakeholders involved. On July 9, 2009, NVRPA hosted a community meeting with elected officials, neighbors, the media, and other interested parties to introduce Adventure Links and answer questions about future operations.

In the end, this partnership resulted in expanded programming and expanded revenue for NVRPA and, at the same time it satisfied the needs of area schools, elected officials and neighbors.

Mt. Zion/Gilbert’s Corner Regional Parks:

In 2009, NVRPA was approached by the Loudoun County government. They were concerned that an 88 acre tract of land in an area called Gilbert’s Corner that was owned by a local non-profit was going to be sold for development, since the non-profit could not make the loan payments on the land. The loan had come from the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they too were concerned that they would soon need to foreclose on the property.

Loudoun County had recently finished a million dollar restoration on a historic site they owned across the road form the distressed property. This historic site called Mt. Zion Historic Church had many notable roles in the Civil War. At that time, Loudoun County did not have the capital funds to buy the distressed property or the operational funds to operate the freshly restored historic site.

NVRPA was able to structure a creative three way deal. The Authority took ownership of the distressed property, saving the state and the non-profit from the foreclosure process. Loudoun County gave the Authority the restored Mt. Zion historic site, which the Authority was able to manage with staff from another nearby historic site. And finally, NVRPA was able to lease 66 acres of adjacent land. The end result was a new 161 acre park, at a bargain sale value.

Loudoun County Attorney Jack Roberts, NVRPA Planning and Development Director Todd Hafner and Executive Director Paul Gilbert, all played leadership roles in facilitating this creative multi-party deal that created new parks for the public.

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