Saturday, January 04, 2014

Insightful Questions from a Boy Scout


You have asked some great questions and I am happy to answer.  I wish you all the best on your path towards becoming an Eagle Scout.

Do you create new parks or do you just expand and renovate the old ones?

Park systems are mostly about the land.  Because of this, I think good park systems are always looking for ways to expand.  In the last five years, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has added over 500 acres at seven different locations.  So yes, we expand parkland and also renovate older park facilities.

If you create new ones, how do you decide where to build them?

In Northern Virginia, with so much of the land already developed, we are always looking for where there are great opportunities to find land that might make good parks.  As we look at various properties, we use a score card to rank what kind of characteristics that land has.  We look at issues such as: protection of major rivers, protection of natural or historic resources, accessibility to the public, development potential and cost.  If the property scores high, and if we have the money or can get grants, then our Board authorizes us to make an offer to the landowner.


If you expand and renovate old parks how do you decide when it is time to expand and renovate?

Must organizations like ours have two budgets . One is for ongoing day-to-day operations, and one is for one-time big expenses like building something or buying land.  This one-time big project budget is called “Capital.”  Building new facilities and major renovations are funded from this Capital Budget, and a big piece of those funds come from park bonds (see the questions below).


Your question about when we plan to build or renovate facilities comes back to the Capital Budget.  We will have a big picture plan for how these funds will be spent over the next 5 years, which is called our “Capital Improvement Plan.”  Then, every year we update a more specific plan of what we will do in our annual Capital Budget.  When we get new facilities or equipment, we estimate how long it will last. A new building might have an estimated life of 40 years, and a new roof might be 20.  This does not mean that we replace these assets at that age, it is just an estimate to help us plan.  As facilities get older, we inspect them to see how they are doing and fix them as needed.


In addition to fixing up our old facilities, we are always looking for new facilities that will serve the public in great new ways.  We go to trade shows, read what other park systems are doing around the county and use our imagination to come up with exciting new features.


We built a new holiday light show at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna and opened it last year.  About 30,000 people experience this feature each year now.  We are planning and permitting a new waterpark ride that is like a roller coaster and that will be open at Cameron Run Waterpark in the summer of 2015.  And we are planning major renovations to Occoquan Regional Park that will make that park serve the public better than ever before.


How do young people help?

Young people can help in many ways.  

For buying new parkland, we need money to fund the purchases.  You live in Fairfax County and about every 4 years or so, there is a County Park Bond.  This is when the voters are asked to approve an effort by the county to borrow money to help fund both land acquisition and building new park facilities.  When these bonds happen, young people can talk to groups and write letters to newspapers, or post on their blogs support for these efforts.  About every ten years, the state also has a bond for State Parks and Natural Areas (Virginia is a few years overdue for this).


Even if young people like you cannot vote, as someone who hikes, camps and uses parks, you can influence others about how important it is to support parks and expand them.


Another way that young people like you can help is to offer your service in fixing up parks.  Either with your troop, as an Eagle project, or as an individual volunteer, there are always a lot of projects to be done in parks.  Talk to the park manager of any park and they will likely have a great list of projects they could use your help on.  At NVRPA, we have around 50,000 hours a year that are volunteered by people like you to help us operate.  We could not offer the quality of service in our parks that we do if it were not for all the help of volunteers.


Nick, thanks again for your great questions.  Our campgrounds at Pohick Bay, Bull Run and Blue Ridge work well for Scout groups, and hope you and your troop are using our facilities.  We also have over 100 miles of trails, including the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, and the W&OD.


Again, I wish you all the best in achieving your Eagle Scout status.


Paul Gilbert


Executive Director

Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Budget Award!

Financial "transparency" means both using the best standards in budgeting and finance, making those documents understandable to a non-expert reader, and making them open and available to the public.

The reason this is important boils down to public trust. As a public agency it is important that people can see and understand our financial information. At the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority we take this public trust very seriously.

We post our budgets and audits on-line for all to see:

We also have a record of winning top awards from the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) for both our audit (comprehensive financial report), and our budget. Above is an image of the latest letter I received from GFOA about our budget award.