Written by: Joel Pannell, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, National Recreation and Park Association
Last Tuesday NRPA President and CEO, Barbara Tulipane, met with the new Secretary for the Department of Interior (DOI), Sally Jewell, to discuss the federal agency’s role in championing community parks.
NRPA has an enduring interest in cultivating a relationship with any DOI Secretary as the presidential appointee leads the departments tasked with management and conservation of our nation’s lands, waters, parks, and natural resources. It also oversees the National Park Service, which administers the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance program, the only current federal program that provides funding specifically for state and local parks and recreation projects.
Prior to being appointed and confirmed as the 51st Secretary of DOI, Ms. Jewell was chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), an outdoor recreation retailer. In addition to her role at REI, Jewell is an avid outdoor enthusiast and accomplished mountaineer who has climbed Mount Rainier seven times along with several more of the world’s highest peaks. This background has many hopeful that she will lead DOI beyond its traditional role as solely the caretaker of federal lands and will focus more on connecting people to the outdoors at all levels.
Just two months into the job the Secretary is, understandably, still trying to determine which direction she will take the department as well as the best ways to leverage her voice in her new position. She did state that she was a “big believer” in the LWCF State Assistance program and shared her thoughts and vision on several areas that were of great interest to NRPA.
As the conversation turned to youth engagement, the Secretary noted that the baby boomer generation has not done a good job of allowing their children to play and connect to the natural world, particularly through unstructured activities. Responding to this, Barbara pointed out that local parks are critical to connecting youth with the outdoors because while not every community has a treasured national park, they all have local parks and outdoor recreation areas. To exhibit the ways in which local parks achieve this goal, Barbara pointed to the collaborative efforts of NRPA and the National Wildlife Federation on the 10 Million Kids Outdoors campaign which is a three year initiative aimed at raising awareness and connecting kids to the natural world. Sec. Jewell showed genuine interest in the initiative and noted that if we do not engage youth in conservation, especially those in urban areas, we will not have the necessary voices to maintain what makes this country so special- our parks, wild lands, and open spaces.
The Need for Data
Barbara touted PRORAGIS, NRPA’s online database and management tool which combines both GIS and operational data for parks and recreational professionals and others, as a means of demonstrating the tangible impact that parks have on local communities. Sec. Jewel definitely values the importance of credible data. While at REI, Ms. Jewel played a significant role in the development of “The Outdoor Recreation Economy”, a report that details and validates the economic impact of outdoor recreation in the United States.
Citing the need for collaboration between government and non-government entities, Sec. Jewell propounded on the vision behind President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors report and noted that partnership is key to finding solutions to our 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. Barbara used the Secretary’s remarks as a way to tout the many ways in which NRPA member agencies are partnering with other organizations at the local level to provide innovative solutions to a variety of issues such as conservation, water restoration, flood control, storm water management and green infrastructure initiatives that integrate environmental solutions with vibrant and engaging recreation experiences.
This initial meeting served as a productive first step in establishing an ongoing dialogue between NRPA and DOI. As the new secretary determines the direction of DOI under her leadership, NRPA encourages her to:
- Recognize that the federal interest can be best served by enabling and investing in local-state-federal cooperation;
- Place a greater focus on urban populations and the need for conservation and recreation in urban areas; and
- Fiercely defend investments in our states and communities through the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s State Assistance Program.
What do you think about this first meeting and the topics discussed/interests expressed? What ways would you like to see NRPA working with DOI? Look out for more coverage on this initial meeting in NRPA's Parks & Recreation magazine.