From Recommendation to Reality: Best Conservation Leadership Practices
Last November, the Conservation Task Force (CTF) broke new ground for NRPA with the issuance of a comprehensive report and recommendations on how park and recreation agencies could do more to promote conservation at the community level. In line with the goal of positioning public parks and recreation in the forefront of conservation leadership and environmental stewardship in every community, the Task Force focused on five key areas with the greatest opportunity for demonstrating leadership and engaging the public: Natural Resources, Sustainable Landscapes, Stewardship, Youth Engagement, and Energy Conservation.
Among the deliverables of the Conservation Task Force was a simple, concise list of 10 actions park and recreation agencies can undertake to engage the public in conservation and stewardship in parks and in the larger community. The NRPA Board of Directors affirmed the importance of implementing Top Ten Recommendations by formally endorsing the list at its recent meeting in Charleston, South Carolina.
This month’s Conservation column features one of the Top Ten Recommendations along with several agencies that have implemented it. Future columns will highlight other recommendations and the agencies implementing them. Additional examples will be posted in the NRPA Knowledge Center.
Regardless of your prior experience in implementing these principles, these simple prescriptions are guidelines for action you can undertake now. Best of all, every one of the Top Ten can be accomplished with existing staff and resources.
Recommendation #1: Take a leadership role in the community to promote conservation. Park and recreation agencies have a unique opportunity to bring governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, community leaders, and the public together for the cause of working together on community wide conservation objectives—clean water, wildlife habitat preservation, and environmental quality.
City of Phoenix, Arizona: Recognizing the enormous potential that the degraded urban river, the Rio Salado, had for conservation, recreation, and stewardship, the Department of Parks and Recreation took a leadership role in restoring river-bottom habitat along this neglected river. Working in partnership with a number of nonprofit organizations and public agency partners to repair the environmental damage, the department now manages 600 acres of restored habitat for conservation and public recreation. The Habitat Conservation Area is anchored by the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Nature Center and features trails, recreation areas, and educational programs in a lush Sonoran riparian terrain inhabited by more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife—beavers, muskrats, coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails, and javelinas. A visitor to the park commented online: “Lovely! One of the area's most amazing nature walks sits just five minutes south of downtown Phoenix. Here, gritty urban industrial meets nature, solitude, singing birds, and running water.”
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina: Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation is a long established park and recreation agency and numerous awards at all levels, including being a multiple Gold Medal Award finalist. At the core of its mission is a deep commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation. The Department continues to deepen and promote its commitment to conservation in a number of ways. Most recently, it was the catalyst for a new conservation partnership, the Charlotte Regional Environmental Network (CREN). They have expanded the use of social media to highlight stewardship activities, and the 17,000 volunteers who give more than 100,000 hours of volunteer service annually are testament to their success in engaging the community in conservation.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in its State Wildlife Action Plan commented on MCP&R: "The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department is a prime example of a parks system that has made natural resources management a priority by conserving habitat integrity and educating the public....They can serve as a role model for other parks and recreation programs that wish to better integrate natural resources management into traditional programming methods.”
East Lyme, Connecticut: The Town of East Lyme has created an outdoor classroom with a twist—it is located in and around a parking lot near one of the main entrances to a highly popular beach and town boardwalk that receives more than 150,000 visitors per year. The purpose of this outdoor classroom at Hole in the Wall Beach, managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation of East Lyme, is to demonstrate to the public the latest technologies and methods of treating storm-water runoff.
Prior to 2008, untreated storm-water from parking lots and roadways near the beach was discharged directly into Long Island Sound. The town, aided by the State of Connecticut, the University of Connecticut, and a host of nonprofit and private-sector partners, designed a series of storm-water management structures that demonstrate structural and non-structural techniques, such as separators, bio-swales, rain gardens, and detention basins. The town developed an outdoor classroom along with interpretive signage, high-tech monitoring that incorporates solar power made possible from a grant by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, and a weather station that can be accessed online. Real time data is available in the classroom to students and residents via the town’s website.
For more information on the above projects:
• Rio Salado Habitat Conservation Area: http://phoenix.about.com/od/parks/ss/riosalado.htm
• Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/ParkandRec/Pages/default.aspx
• Hole in the Wall Beach Outdoor Classroom: http://www.eltownhall.com/hole-in-the-wall
• The full report of the Conservation Task Force, including the complete list of the Top Ten can be found in the November 2011 issue of Parks and Recreation : www.parksandrecreation.org.
Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA Vice President of Parks and Conservation.