Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Future of the Past

In Today's Washington Post there is an article by J.Freedom Du Lac about the plight of most historic house museums in the country. The problem is steeply declining attendance, and a trend that has been going on for decades. Just in Virginia there are over 100 historic house museums, most of which operate at significant losses.

Monticello saw 671,000 visitors at its peak forty years ago, and now sees 440,000. Stratford Hall on the Northern Neck saw 80,000 visitors during the Bicentennial and now sees 27,000 visitors. While some look for excuses like a lack of interest in history, or gas prices, that is not the reality. The movie on Lincoln is one of the top 25 grossing movies this year, and the Smithsonian Institute has seen increasing attendance.

I believe the core issue is how is information being delivered, what is the experience that these sites are selling?

Someone telling visitors about the furnishings of a room was enough 40 years ago, but not enough to grow attendance today. The new Mt. Vernon Education Center, has a 4D movie, where it snows in the theater when they are at Valley Forge, and the chairs shake when the cannons fire. Their are various hands on displays that are much more inviting than the typical museum. This makes for t he kind of interactive experience that attracts visitors. Re-enactments is another type of event that makes history come alive for the public. Smartphone apps is another area that offers a great potential to build a new experience.

The trick for today's historic sites is to offer a compelling experience that is worthy of the public's time and money. That experience needs to be much more than just an old artifact behind layers of UV protected glass. We need to make history come alive and engage the public in a compelling way that makes them want to learn more about our wonderful shared history.
Children get into the action at the Ball's Bluff Battle Reenactment

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crowd Sourcing Parks

Yelp is a great web site for finding a good restaurant, but did you know it can also help you find a great park? Absolutely! Below is a sampling of Northern Virginia Regional Parks and their consumer ratings on Yelp. The great think about this kind of rating is that it is crowd sources to our actual users. The result is that customers get an unvarnished view of the things users found good and bad.

It only take one or two grumpy reviews to bring a score down, but I am proud to say that our parks rank very highly by our users.

W&OD Trail
W&OD Trail: 27 reviews and about a 4.5 rating:

Meadowlark Gardens: 21 reviews and a 4.5 rating:
Meadowlark Garden

Bull Run Shooting Center (Skeet & Trap): 21 reviews and a 4.5 rating:

Fountainhead Regional Park: 14 reviews and a 4.5 rating:

Pohick Bay Regional Park: 2 reviews and a 4.5 rating:

Great Waves at Cameron Run
 Cameron Run/Great Waves: 21 reviews and a 4 rating:

Upton Hills Regional Park: 21 reviews and a 4 rating:

Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2 reviews and a 4 rating:

Occoquan Regional Park: 2 reviews and a 5 rating:

Algonkian Regional Park: 11 reviews and a 3.5 rating:

Pirates Cove Waterpark: 3 reviews and a 4.5 rating:

Carlyle House: 2 reviews and a 4 rating:

Carlyle House

Monday, December 17, 2012

Forget Resolutions, create a Strategic Plan

As we approach a New Year many people will be thinking about New Year resolutions. I suggest, forget the resolution, and adopt a personal strategic plan.

While they may sound similar there are some important differences. First it is important to state your goals in the positive, too often resolutions are stated in the negative (I want to lose weight, spend less, etc.) Second resolutions tend to be a one-off goal, not tied to a larger vision of the future.

The process of strategic planning starts with the end. What is your vision of where you would like to be in 5-10 years? You can create this vision for your career, relationships, physical fitness, lifestyle, or whatever you like. It would be great if it was an integrated vision that included all of the above. What in your ideal world ‘could be?’ If you believe it is impossible, then it is. If you believe it is possible, then it has a good chance of being just that.

Once you have the end vision firmly in your mind (preferably on paper), then start thinking about what are some of the key steps that would need to be taken between now and then. Don’t believe you can or should write down every detail, because you do not know exactly how life will unfold, but instead think about the pivotal steps.

With the key steps identified, think about how you might be able to measure your progress, so you see that you are moving in the right direction. Measuring progress creates positive momentum.

Now you have all the pieces of a strategic plan. It is flexible enough to bend with changing circumstances, and specific enough to keep you on the right track.

Then keep the end vision in mind while you put your attention and efforts towards the first key measurable result. When that is achieved move to the next, and so on.

This approach is much more powerful than creating a “don’t list” like most resolutions. Or maybe your resolution needs to be to create a strategic plan?

Friday, December 14, 2012

W&OD as vital community resource

Recently citizen committees in both Falls Church and Vienna Virginia looked at the role the W&OD Trail plays in those jurisdictions. The 45 mile trail goes through four towns, three counties and one city. It is really the center spine of the the region's bike routes, and also serves local walkers all along its course. Above is the letter from the Falls Church Committee. Last week Chris Pauley, our Director of Operations, and I, met with the Vienna Town Council to discuss the report from the committee in that Town. 

It is hard to overstate the vital role the W&OD Trail plays in all the communities it passes through.

Monday, December 10, 2012

New parkland along the Potomac

Wright Property is where the "cabin" is marked on this 1918 map
 Today, we acquired a new piece of parkland along the Potomac River. 10.7 acres a few miles upstream from Scott's Run Nature Preserve. This beautiful river-front property will help future efforts to make the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

Ms Wright did a bargain sale of her property, where the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority paid for part of the value of the property, and she donated a portion of the value. The property has been in her family for 100 years, and she wanted to see it preserved forever as parkland.

Ms Wright with Paul Gilbert at Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority Headquarters

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Strategic Planning Video

See the video outlining some of the high points in the new 5 year Strategic Plan for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. It is about 8 minutes and touches on every area of focus for the plan.