Legislative Forum: Not What I ExpectedAs a first-year employee with NRPA, I attended Legislative
Forum this week as a novice, a little wide-eyed at the thought of meeting
members of Congress in person and asking for their support on legislation important
to the future of parks and recreation. I’ve lived in the D.C. area for nearly
10 years but have never made a direct connection with any legislators who serve
at the federal level, so I didn’t really know what to expect out of this week.
Looking back, I’m extremely glad I went, and I think our delegation made some
solid progress in advocating for parks and recreation.
The Forum began on Tuesday morning, which was filled with NRPA
network and committee meetings, but the afternoon was dedicated to
informational and training sessions to help prepare attendees for their day of
advocating on Capitol Hill. NRPA’s public policy team did a fantastic job of covering
the legislation critical to parks and recreation today, including MAP-21, the
Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Community Parks Revitalization Act, the
Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, and others. All of these pieces of legislation have
the potential to make a huge difference for park and recreation agencies on the
state and local levels, and the session leaders gave plenty of insight on how
to talk about each item. Namely, supporting these bills and laws will stimulate
job growth, economic prosperity, community health and wellness, increased
property values, and more, so the public policy team stressed how members of
Congress are more likely to respond positively when they see how legislation
will improve their jurisdiction. After these sessions, I felt well equipped for
the following day, and I enjoyed that evening’s networking reception, confident
about my upcoming trip to the Hill.
On Wednesday morning, my group got an early start in order
to be first in line for our first appointment with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).
I grew up in North Carolina and spent my youth exploring Tarheel parks, so
Stacey Pine, NRPA’s vice president of government affairs, had arranged for me
to join the 11 N.C. attendees for the day on Capitol Hill. Hagan has long been
a champion for parks and recreation, so our group went to her 9 a.m. “Carolina
Coffee” session to present her with an award for her support over the years.
While we were waiting, I spoke with Stephen Poulos, director
of N.C.’s Watauga County Parks & Recreation Department, who was planning to
visit with Rep. Virginia Foxx later that morning. Turns out her grandson plays
on one of his department’s basketball teams, and when Stephen had trouble
arranging a meeting through Foxx’s staff, her grandson gave her a call and got
a meeting set up by the following day. That’s a pretty great connection!
Michelle Wells, executive director for the North Carolina Recreation & Park
Association, told me a story later that day about how Foxx ran late to a
meeting with the North Carolina delegation of NRPA members one year and didn’t
make it to the office until right after they had left. When she realized she
had just missed the group, she ran down the hall chasing after them because she
was so excited to meet and learn what she could do to help support parks and
recreation. It’s not every day that a congressperson will run after a group of “lobbyists,”
but hey, parks get people excited!
In Hagan’s office, we snacked on Krispy Kreme doughnuts (a
North Carolina staple) while waiting for our turn to meet. She was very
gracious when we presented her with her award, and she seemed genuinely
interested in learning what other ways she could continue to represent the
needs of parks and recreation in North Carolina. There was a long line of
constituents waiting to meet with her, so our visit was short, but the N.C.
delegation of NRPA members easily refreshed the connection they’ve cultivated
with the senator over her years in office.
After this visit, the group split up to go to visit different
representatives, and I stayed with Larry Bailey, recreation director for the
Town of Clayton, N.C., and Michelle to visit the office of Sen. Richard
Burr (R-N.C.). The senator wasn’t available, but we met with his legislative
assistant, who seemed very receptive to Larry’s advocacy for LWCF. While we
were there, Larry also mentioned a trail opening happening soon in Clayton and
requested the senator’s presence, and Michelle put in a request for help
getting a significant Washingtonian to speak at the NCRPA annual conference.
Both possibilities sounded very promising!
Our last meeting of the day was with Rep. Mike McIntyre
(D-N.C. 7th District), who received NRPA’s National Congressional
Award in 2006 in recognition for his commitment to expand and improve upon
youth sports opportunities. Larry, who has advocated for parks and recreation
with Leg Forum for more than a decade, reiterated the need for continuing
support from the congressman on LWCF, MAP-21, and more, and McIntyre agreed to
do his best. He also expressed interest in attending the Clayton trail opening,
and I know Larry is looking forward to seeing him there. They laughed about an
event they both attended last summer where the congressman was up to his elbows
in ice cream serving his constituents, and we left feeling good about our
On Thursday morning, three program managers from the
National Park Service held a talk where they discussed some youth conservation
initiatives that can cross over from national to state and local parks.
Overall, our goals are the same—exposing the next generation to nature so they’ll
protect what they learn to love. Afterward, a few dozen attendees went out on
an NPS tour of the D.C. monuments, but most others who hadn’t already left the
previous evening started heading home. I got back to the office early in the
afternoon, tired from a full trip but excited about the progress I heard about
from other people and their Hill visits.
The last session on Tuesday was about continuing advocacy
from home, which I saw firsthand how important that was on my day on the Hill.
Some of the legislators remembered members of the N.C. group by name and
chatted about their shared history before getting down to business, and it was
clear they were much more engaged in the conversation if that personal
connection was there. Although the meetings I attended were largely geared
toward refreshing the memories of congresspeople who already support parks and
recreation, other advocates made first contact with some new legislators who
had no idea of the wide-reaching significance and relevance of this field but
are now fully on our side.
Not every congressperson is going to run down the hall
chasing after us like Rep. Foxx did at a previous Leg Forum, so it’s up to us
to keep parks and recreation on their minds and agendas. This means regular
contact and sustained relationships with the legislators and their staffs. NRPA’s
public policy staff advocates for this field day in and day out and does a phenomenal
job, but they’re a staff of three compared to our membership of 30,000. Imagine
what we could do if every member made it a priority to stay informed about new
legislation and appropriations related to the field and advocated regularly.
I’m looking forward to next year’s Leg Forum, but I’m even
more excited about what we can accomplish between now and then. How about you?
Danielle Taylor is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation Magazine (firstname.lastname@example.org).