Briefly Noted

April 1, 2013, Department, by Danielle Taylor

A gang of vigilante mower riders has appeared in Detroit and makes it their mission to clean up many of the parks left  unmaintained in the wake of severe budget cuts.The Get to Know Your Wild Neighbors youth art contest for 2013 has officially begun, and it is an excellent way to engage children and youth in new ways to connect  to nature and the outdoors through art, photography, writing, video, and music. If you are looking for a creative program idea, a special-event idea, or just a new way to engage more kids with nature and the outdoors, the GTK website (www.get-to-know.org) offers a rich array of activities and ideas. All kids’ entries are submitted online and then posted in online galleries (www.get-to-know.org/gallery). New from GTK this year is an Art in the Park Guide (www.get-to-know.org/blog/best-practices/2013/4/8/80-art-in-the-park-guide), a toolkit of 27 art-based activities for educators, naturalists, and program leaders to use to engage youth with nature. Age-appropriate activities include blind contour drawing, log poems, a nature photography scavenger hunt, claymation, sound journals, and instructions on how kids can film their own Get to Know moment.  You can even design an All Arts Trail, an interactive path of art activities customized to your outdoor space.

In March, PlayCore received the prestigious Champion of the Community Award from the California Park and Recreation Society (CPRS) in recognition for Building Communities through Play, Recreation, and Service. The CPRS Awards Program recognizes excellence in agencies and individuals that embrace the core values of the profession and align with the mission of parks and recreation: promoting participation in recreational experiences, strengthening communities, promoting health and wellness, fostering human development, increasing cultural unity, protecting environmental resources, and facilitating community problem-solving. Champion of the Community recipients are chosen based upon their significant effort to influence and improve the quality of California communities through parks, recreation, and community services within three criteria: volunteer service, active support, and development. PlayCore CEO Bob Farnsworth and Vice Presidents Anne-Marie Spencer and Tom Norquist were on hand to receive the award. Said Spencer, “We are honored and humbled to receive this award, and to work with so many communities throughout California who demonstrate a selfless dedication to providing meaningful recreation opportunities.”

Voters in St. Louis, Missouri, recently voted to approve Proposition P, a 3/16ths of one-cent sales tax increase designed to fund about $31 million annually in improvements to the Gateway Arch grounds, the regional Great Rivers Greenway trails and greenways, and city and county parks. The measure had to pass in both the county and the city in order to be implemented, which it did. The $31 million proposition will annually provide about $9.4 million in Arch grounds improvements, $2.5 million for St. Louis City Parks, $9.42 million for Great Rivers Greenways trails around the region, $6 million for St. Louis County parks, and $4 million for municipal parks in St. Louis County. The proposal is expected to create around 530 construction jobs each year over the next three years and 4,400 new, permanent jobs.

On June 18, tens of thousands of kids and adults at aquatic facilities around the world will unite for the fourth year in a row to set a new Guinness World Record. The global record attempt for The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL) will take place at 3 p.m. GMT (11 a.m. ET, 8 a.m. PT). Team WLSL holds the current Guinness World Record for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson, which stands at 24,873 participants representing 15 different countries across five continents. The event aims to encourage parents to enroll their children in swimming lessons, as drowning is a leading cause of death for children, and studies show formal lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged 1 to 4. Facilities interested in serving as an official Host Location for The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson 2013 record-breaking attempt have until May 19 to register online at www.wlsl.org.

A new kind of gang has appeared in Detroit, but instead of riding in on Harley-Davidsons, members instead sit astride riding lawn mowers. The Detroit Mower Gang, which started in 2010 upon the closing of more than 50 Detroit parks, has adopted up to nine parks as their turf and volunteers their mowing services to keep the city’s unattended parks in shape. Volunteers bring their own mowers, gas, and lawn-care equipment to clear parks of junk, waste, and tall grass while enjoying the company of fellow gang members. On May 25, the group plans to host the “Motown Mowdown,” a 24-hour mowing, barbecuing, and camping event where the crew of volunteers will attempt to keep their equipment running for as many hours as possible to clean as many Detroit playgrounds as they can. One of the gang’s lawn-equipment sponsors, Husqvarna USA, is donating equipment for the group to use and has already shipped its latest Husqvarna Zero Turn lawn tractor, valued at more than $5,300, to founder Tom Nardone. Nardone said forming relationships with sponsors plays a major role in ensuring the quality of the park jobs and has become a mutual benefit. For more information on the gang’s park and playground clean-up dates, visit www.mowergang.com.

Toyota recently announced a $3.5 million grant to the National Audubon Society to extend Toyota TogetherGreen, a national initiative that invests in emerging conservation leaders and funds innovative community-based conservation projects throughout the United States. Now in its sixth year, Toyota TogetherGreen has engaged nearly 370,000 people in conservation action to date. In 2013, 40 program fellows will receive $10,000 grants as well as specialized training and support to help develop and implement 12-month conservation projects in their communities; up to 40 grants ranging from $5,000 to $80,000 will be given to support cutting-edge conservation projects that address habitat, wildlife, water, or energy issues in local communities. A summertime digital campaign also will encourage people to get outdoors and spend more time in nature. By submitting scenic photos of nature, participants can enter to win a Toyota Prius v. To learn more, visit www.exitthehighway.com. The deadline to apply for a Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship or Innovation Grant is June 7, 2013. Visit www.togethergreen.org/fellows and www.togethergreen.org/grants for application guidelines, selection criteria, eligibility, benefits, and online applications for both programs.

The Arlington, Texas, Parks and Recreation Department has recently developed a new avenue for showcasing the talent and dedication of some of its extraordinary staff members, volunteers, and coaches. The YouTube series “Stars of the Parks” will introduce the public to individuals who are making a difference every day in this community. The first “Stars of the Parks” video, featuring youth baseball umpire Danyale Webb, was created after the department received several emails from parents about how much their children enjoyed her as an umpire (www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjes Ju91ux0). The Arlington Parks and Recreation Department has requested that the community become involved in highlighting staff members who are making a difference. Nominations should be sent to parksdepartment@arlingtontx.gov.

In Chicago, mother Mistie Lucht has been on a crusade to visit local parks in order to gather research for a popular smartphone app. Called Playground Pointers, the app is aimed at parents and caregivers whose kids might have grown sick of the neighborhood swings. It currently features a database of reviews covering more than 700 parks in and around Chicago, but the app’s developer says it could eventually spread nationwide with the help of user-generated reviews. Each listing contains photos, a cleanliness rating, information about parking, picnic areas, surfacing, sport courts and the number of swings, tire swings, and slides available, plus a small description. The app is available in the App Store for $1.99.

The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) is now accepting entries for its fifth-annual Search for the Real Field of Dreams, which recognizes the power that synthetic turf has to transform communities and schools and keep youth active, healthy, and fit. Interested students, coaches, athletic directors, faculty, parks and recreation managers, and business owners can easily nominate an installation. Submissions are due by September 1, 2013, and there is a grand prize of $1,000. Questions can be directed to Terrie Ward, STC’s marketing and education director, at 678.385.6720 or terrie@syntheticturfcouncil.org.

Portland, Oregon’s Mill Ends Park, billed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest public park in the world, has been dealt a double whammy in recent weeks. In mid-March, an unknown vandal made off with the park’s only tree, a small pine sapling reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Fortunately, it was quickly replaced by parks officials with a small Douglas fir. Then, in early April, its claim to fame was challenged by fans of Princes Park in the United Kingdom’s town of Burntwood. Calling Mill Ends, which is only two feet in diameter, nothing but a “glorified flower pot,” the British contenders argued that Princes Park, with its fence, bench, and three trees, is the smallest park that fully meets the dictionary’s definition. Portland officials are fighting to retain Mill Ends’ long-held title.

In Highland Park, California, a dog was electrocuted in a city park in late March when it stepped on a metal grate. The grate, officials theorize, became charged after copper thieves left wire exposed. The dog died shortly after sustaining its injuries, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials are looking into the circumstances of the incident.

New York City’s parks department recently awarded a two-year, $320,000 contract to a painting company for the sole job of painting and repairing of its 1,112 flagpoles. Many flagpoles are in excess of 100 feet, requiring special equipment and trained personnel for their maintenance, which can range from $20 a foot for simple painting or repairs to $55 a foot for more challenging jobs. Last year, 57 poles were repainted or repaired.

The last county parks police department in New Jersey will be shuttered soon, as officials in Camden County recently announced they plan to close the office due to a lack of service calls and an already-dwindling force. The 13 officers remaining in the parks police department will be transferred this spring to the countywide police force, which will be tasked with patrolling Camden City. According to county officials, closing the parks police—which patrols Camden County’s 22 parks throughout 17 of its 37 municipalities—will save $2 million.

At the Youth Correctional Center in Mandan, North Dakota, teenage offenders build picnic tables for local county parks. The shop class is offered between mandatory classes, treatment, and behavioral counseling, and it is only available as a special privilege to teens who follow the rules appropriately. The program is supervised heavily by adult employees, who say the teens often get a sense of accomplishment from their work that they never found elsewhere. When completed, the pine picnic tables go to Morton County parks.

In Oregon, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is helping send three deserving students to college through its Early Adventures in Golf for a Lifetime of Enjoyment (EAGLE) program and the Western Golf Association Evans Scholarship Foundation (WGAESF) Evans Scholarship. EAGLE students Hannah Rice and Isaiah Truong are seniors at Madison High School, and Ben Song a senior from Cleveland High School have been named 2013 Evans Scholarship winners. They will each attend University of Oregon this fall on a scholarship (tuition and a housing stipend provided). The scholarship is valued in excess of $50,000. PP&R has sponsored the EAGLE program for more than 20 years, providing key opportunities for hundreds of area teens. Including this year’s winners, 60 of the program’s participants have received Evans Scholarships during that time. Winners may choose to attend either The University of Oregon or Oregon State University. Scholarships are awarded for up to four years. Through the EAGLE program, PP&R offers outreach opportunities to underserved and lower income sophomores who attend a public high school located within the City of Portland.

Also in Portland, eye-catching price tags have been hung from select trees in a downtown city park to celebrate Arbor Month. The price tags list the value each tree provides the community. One, hung in Chapman Square, reported that the tree has offered "$20,000 worth of environmental & aesthetic benefits over its lifetime." Portland Parks & Recreation spent nearly $1,000 on the 42 signs, which have previously been used in events such as the Earth Day celebration.

Cleanup from superstorm Sandy at New Jersey state parks has provided a boost in job opportunities for those looking for work. When Sandy roared through, parts of Liberty State Park were submerged. So far, workers have removed more than 1,000 tons of debris from the park. Much of the work has been done by people hired with federal money, which has allowed the hiring of about 1,000 workers. New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, one of the nation’s highest.

Authorities in northeastern Pennsylvania say a teenager was rescued by emergency workers after getting stuck up to his waist in mud at Nescopeck State Park in Luzerne County in early April. Officials said the youth got stuck, then sank deeper as he struggled, while walking on land that was once a lake but has since drained. Dennison Township Fire Chief Jay Marotta said firefighters and ambulance personnel used a ladder and boards on the surface to stabilize themselves, then pulled the teenager out by hand. Marotta said he couldn't recall in a quarter-century of fire service having ever responded to a mud rescue. The teen was stuck for about 40 minutes but wasn't injured.