The group of Maryland NRPA members I shadowed was fortunate: Their Hill visits were with lawmakers sympathetic to parks. I heard a couple of stories as we navigated the halls of the Longworth building about past meetings with brusque, impassive, or even hostile representatives. And, budget issues being what they are, I would not have been surprised to find an edge of tension in the room. But these were cordial visits, and the aides were welcoming and attentive.
The first visit was to Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s office. Van Hollen’s aide ushered us in, seated us in a little conversational grouping around a coffee table, and motioned with his legal pad for us to begin the spiels.
The first to speak was Rose Colby, from Prince Georges County’s parks and rec agency. A well spoken, thoughtful, matter-of-fact woman, she prefaced her comments with an acknowledgment of how supportive Rep. Van Hollen has been of parks. She then outlined a few of the key issues we had all been briefed on by NRPA’s policy experts that morning. Glancing down briefly at the summary card from the folder, Rose addressed the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Healthy Communities Program. She outlined the position of NRPA (and her own agency) that Healthy Communities funding should be maintained at $22.7 million in FY12. The aide asked a couple of questions—questions that demonstrated that he had both a working knowledge of the legislation and a desire to understand better what was at stake.
So far, so good.
Rose handed the baton to Dalton Mann, a citizen member with a long history of park involvement. Dalton’s talking point was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). True to the morning’s coaching, but in his own impassioned style, Dalton hit on the high points of LWCF, emphasizing the reasonableness of authorizing 40% of the fund for stateside funding. (When the LWCF was first created in the 1960s, 60% had actually been earmarked for stateside—and the message NRPA is working so hard to drive home is that 40% is both true to the intent of the original legislation and a perfect, tax-hike-free way to support parks.) The aide had no questions this time—he simply nodded noncommittally and took notes. (As a newbie, my take on all of this was that 40% is not a bad thing to shoot for at all—and that NRPA’s arguments are sound. But that, airtight arguments aside, there’s probably an all-out feeding frenzy going on around the LWCF pot.)
Dalton wrapped up his LWCF points, and then it was time for Paul Dial, head of Frederick County’s park department, to speak to some remaining points about transportation and environmental/outdoor education. Paul had the quiet authority of someone who really is just trying to do his job and serve the needs of his customers. He’s clearly not the kind of guy who gravitates toward politicking—but, as he told me later, he does make sure to make his voice heard. He talked to Van Hollen’s aide about the brand-new nature center his agency just opened—and how closely the nature center will be partnering with the county’s schools.
The upshot? Park and recreation agencies should be able to partner with schools for State Environmental Literacy Plans—and receive some of the funding that goes along with that functional relationship. As I sat there taking it all in, I gave Paul major points for bringing federal-level legislative issues down to something as concrete and immediate as the service a local nature center provides in educating schoolchildren.
Paul then told about all that Frederick County is doing to connect parks through trails—and to make for a healthier, more livable community. He also made sure to note what that enhanced quality of life does for home values, no matter what the economic climate. The aide, as it turns out, likes to camp with his family in a park that is located in Frederick County. He was unaware of all that is happening to connect parks through trails, and he seemed excited about the prospect.
A reminder that legislators and their aides (and their families) need and love parks and open spaces, too. Legislators at all levels of government, not just Capitol Hill. But, I must admit, I especially liked thinking about all of the bustling, appointment-minded Hill people shedding their suits for jeans and hiking boots to pack up the minivans and find a little serenity and family time. Parks humanize and restore us all—and at some level, I think we all recognize that.
Parks & Recreation