Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Investing in a healthy retirement plan

Because the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is an independent governmental authority (not part of a City, County or State), we do a lot of our own administrative functions like, purchasing, human resources, and retirement plans, that in a larger government would be handled by different departments.

Our retirement plan is run by a group of Trustees that include an elected representative of the retirees, the Planning and Development Director, Chairman of the NVRPA Board, and me, the Executive Director. We had one of our regular meetings yesterday to work on diversifying some of our investments and review our performance. Our investments had grown about 12% so far this year, but with the fiscal cliff looming, the stock performance in December is anyone’s guess?

Like almost all retirement plans ours has been hurt by the erratic stock performance particularly through the recession. We also carry some unfunded obligations from when the plan was started in the 1980s. The good news is that we have been taking good consistent actions over time to make the plan healthy. Every year we have an actuarial study to determine how much should be contributed, and each year we make to commitment to fund that amount. In our Strategic Plan we pledged to reduce the unfunded obligations from when the plan was started by 25% over the next 5 years.

Several years ago in the heart of the recession we had a special two day Board Retreat where we looked in detail at all of our options for retirement benefits. After an in-depth analysis, we decided the best option was to work to make our plan healthy. We have been putting a lot of effort to those ends ever since.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Trails and Conservation

I recently spoke to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club at their annual dinner and awards ceremony held at the Atrium at Meadowlark Gardens. PATC is a fantastic group that for decades has been building and maintaining hundreds of miles of trails in our region. In addition to large areas of the Appalachian Trial and the portions of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, they also maintain the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail which is an 18 mile nature trail along the southern boarder of Fairfax County Va.

A number of trail groups like PATC help the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority maintain our 100+ miles of trails. I estimated that for every mile of trail we have over $3,000 in volunteer labor per year. That is a saving of over $300,000 to the public contributed by all of these volunteers, just for our park system!

I also told the group of about 200 club members about our founder Ira Gabrielson who served as the Chairman of NVRPA for our first 17 years. Gabrielson was the first Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and was inducted into the Conservationist Hall of Fame.

We are very proud of our conservationist roots, and our long-standing partnership with the PATC and other trail groups that help us run our 11,000+ acre park system.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights... Awesome!

The all new Winter Walk of Light at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna Virginia is an unbelievable show. Over a half mile walking through one of the best public gardens with over a half million LED lights! The theme is nature with fish jumping from a river of lights, flowers bloom, and butterflies fly in the winter! While there are spectacular animated displays, perhaps the most inspiring elements are the hundreds of trees that are wrapped in stunningly vibrant colored lights.

This is one of the truly one of a kind shows in the area. A world class attraction.

Tickets are sold on-line at:

Do not miss the opportunity to see this amazing show!