Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 - NOVA Parks in Review

Cate Magennis Wyatt
2015 was another excellent year for NOVA Parks, with progress and achievement in many areas. Here are a few of the highlights from the year.

NOVA Parks Board:
In February, Joan Rokus stepped down from our Board after 23 years of service. The Loudoun Board of Supervisors appointed Cate Magennis Wyatt to fill that seat. Cate brings a wealth of experience to our Board. She served as the Virginia Secretary of Commerce, reporting directly to Governor Doug Wilder. Her leadership roles in the private sector, government, and non-profit sectors helped her found and grow the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG), which promotes tourism and conservation in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Sean Kumar
In September, David Pritzker stepped down from our Board after 35 years of service. The City Council of Alexandria appointed Sean Kumar to serve in his place. Sean is a life-long resident of Alexandria with a law career in both the public and private sectors. Currently, Mr. Kumar is a JAG officer in the U.S. Army.

One of the key measures of a healthy park system is growth in parkland. 2015 was a great year in the expansion of parkland at NOVA Parks. We started the year by opening the Tinner Hill Historic Site on the border between the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County. This site played a significant role in the early Civil Rights movement one hundred years ago.
Tinner Hill Ribbon Cutting

On June 1,  NOVA Parks opened the Beaverdam Reservoir for recreational use. This is part of a partnership with Loudoun Water who owns the reservoir. Between the 600-acre reservoir and the roughly 450 acres of NOVA Parks land adjacent to it, we have a 1,000+ acre park with one of the largest lakes in the region. After a successful summer season, we initiated a public planning process in October to help envision the future of this new park area.

We obtained permits putting The Battle of Middleburg/Mt. Defiance property closer to an open park. A few more permits and some additional work, and this site will help tell the story of a Civil War battle that is not well known.

In December, we completed the acquisition of Springdale Regional Park, a 150 acre site on the Potomac River near Point of Rocks. Additional permits and work are needed to open this site, but the first and all important step of acquiring it is done!
Beaverdam Reservoir

NOVA Parks continues to be recognized by many national and state organizations as one of the best park agencies in the nation. This year, the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society (VRPS) bestowed the ‘Best Promotional Effort’ award for the NOVA Parks Facility Guide and Directory. The Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) again gave us both the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and the Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting Award.
Children at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park

Four years ago, we set a goal of having half a million children have a meaningful nature experience through NOVA Parks over five years. This September, we celebrated this achievement. We call our program to engage children with nature “Nature Nuts,” and it incorporates all the ways children are exploring nature in our park system. Recently, we have expanded our summer camp programs, and we partnered with other organizations like Audubon Naturalist Society to offer more nature-based programing in our parks. We also have a very successful ‘Roving Naturalist’ program that brings nature education to where the people are, at fairs, festivals and other gatherings. Getting children interested in nature will assure that this is support for parks in the future.

Improving the W&OD Trail:
Flashing Beacons
We have been on a multi-year effort to improve trail safety. In 2015, rapid flashing beacons were added to the roadways crossing the trail at Cedar Lane, Belmont Ridge Road, and Sterling Blvd. Also, there was a tunnel built for trail users to go under Rt. 7 and Rt. 9 in Loudoun County. Crestview Drive and Van Buren Streets in Herndon received new medians to allow for easier crossing by trail users. Currently, there is construction going on to improve safety of the intersection at Park Street in Vienna. Last year, in our Trail Safety Summit, we heard that in addition to the physical engineering we would also need social engineering to address behaviors of trail users to instill a more friendly and safety-focused ethic. We started addressing this issue this year by making our first two “Trail Guys” videos. One deals with staying hydrated, and the other deals with the need to stop at stop signs. Both use humor to make their points.

Personnel Management:
Leadership Training for Park Managers
“People are our most important asset” is much more than a saying. NOVA Parks has become one of the best park agencies in the nation because of the work of our outstanding staff. To continue to build on this momentum, we implemented a truly novel and innovative system of goals and rewards this year. 2014/2015 was the first year where virtually all our staff had personal goals for the year. In October, all those goals were reviewed, and new goals were set for the coming year. We used a new web-based system to manage all of these annual reviews and goals. The end result was making a much clearer connection between the strategic goals of the organization and the role that each staff member plays in achieving those goals. Also this year, employees were eligible for a new Performance Incentive Plan (PIP). We took a percentage of our end of the year surplus and used it as a bonus pool. Based on the achievement of personal goals, most employees received a Performance Incentive to recognize their achievements. This creates an investment and buy-in on the performance of the whole organization that is highly motivating. This program will hopefully inspire even greater performances in the future.

Parks hit new highs in use:
2015 has seen more park users and more associated park revenues than ever before. This success has been spread across most elements of our operations. Events, waterparks and many other areas have driven growth. Golf has been down for a number of years but seems to have flattened out. As we end the year, we are going out with a bang! The two holiday light shows that run from mid-November to January 3rd are seeing their greatest use ever. Over 160,000 visitors are ending the year by enjoying either the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, a drive-through show; or the Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights in Vienna, a walk-through light show.
Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights

Bull Run Festival of Lights

As happens any year, there were some setbacks along with the victories in 2015. But, by any standard, 2015 was a great year for NOVA Parks, and a great year for our region!

No comments: