Briefly Noted

June 1, 2013, Department, by Danielle Taylor

NRPA and the park and recreation community mourn the loss of Walter L. Mess of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.Walter L. Mess, who established the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and was a member of its board for more than 45 years, passed away on May 26 at the age of 100. During his more than four decades on the NVRPA Board, the agency preserved more than 10,000 acres of land and expanded to include the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church as well as Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties. One of his proudest achievements was the creation of the 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion Trail. Since stepping down from the NVRPA Board in 2004, Mess served on the board of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation, the nonprofit that raises money to support the mission of the authority. His leadership and guiding influence will be missed by his colleagues, local and national alike.

The National Park Service-backed Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program is now accepting applications for technical assistance on local conservation and outdoor recreation projects. Applicants may be state or local agencies, tribes, nonprofit organizations or citizen groups. Although the program does not provide direct grants, it does offer assistance in the form of building partner relationships; helping partners define goals through consensus; developing conceptual, strategic and workable project plans; helping the public participate in defining community goals; identifying potential sources of funding for project implementation; and teaching hands-on conservation and other technical skills necessary to successfully realize conservation and outdoor recreation projects. Assistance is provided for one year and may be renewed for a second year. Further information can be found on the program's webpage, including details on the application process, which includes a pre-application consultation with NPS staff. The pre-application process and declared intent to apply must be complete by July 1, and all application materials must be postmarked by August 1. Project selection is announced in early November.

The International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration recently released a study titled “Benefits of Urban Parks: A Systematic Review,” which assessed benefits of urban parks to the public in the areas of human health and well-being, social cohesion, tourism, property values, biodiversity, air quality, water management, and environmental cooling. Drawing on relevant studies and reports published between 2000 and 2010, this report found significant and well-documented benefits due to the presence and use of parks. For example, those in close proximity to parks were found to have better physical and mental health, and the studies profiled overwhelmingly indicate that the current obesity problem could be largely curtailed with increased numbers of and access to parks. For the full study, visit www.ifpra.org/images/park-benefits.pdf.

A religious debate with legal repercussions has popped up in Georgia State Parks after a former president of the American Atheists raised concerns about the Gideon Bible he found in his rented cabin. Upon receiving his complaint, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources temporarily removed the Bibles from rental accommodations on May 14 until the state attorney could review the decision. The following day, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order to have the Bibles reinstated. In response, American Atheists prepared a shipment of popular atheist books to place alongside the Bibles in every rental unit under the state’s purview. The situation remains unresolved.

Following last summer’s budget scandal following threats that would have closed a quarter of California’s state parks, the state parks system is launching a study commission that leaders hope will reshape the system and restore public confidence and financial stability. The Parks Forward Commission, a privately funded group of private-sector business leaders, will study everything from how big the park system should be to whether individual parks can do a better job generating revenue and if the current practice of promoting only law-enforcement rangers to leadership positions has led to a lack of innovation at the top.

In New York City, residents near Damrosch Park, a 2.4-acre wedge in the shadow of Lincoln Center, have filed a lawsuit against the city and Lincoln Center on May 20, arguing the city’s arrangement with Lincoln Center is an illegal seizure of park land for commercial purposes. Private events such as Fashion Week and the Big Apple Circus have subleased the park for up to 10 months a year, making much of it virtually off-limits to the neighborhood, the residents say. Members of the Damrosch family, a musical family for which the 44-year-old park was named, support the lawsuit, stating that the park is not being used for its original purpose. The city law department said it would review the lawsuit carefully. It said city residents benefit from events in the park, and that Fashion Week generates millions of dollars for the local economy. Parks advocates say that the city has wrongfully allowed Lincoln Center to keep up to $9 million in revenue generated by events like Fashion Week in the park each year, money they say should go to the city’s General Fund instead. Lincoln Center declined to comment. Neighborhood residents have expressed that they simply want to reclaim the park as a place where their kids can play.

In Texas, statewide environmental groups joined municipal organizations to laud the state legislature’s approval of funding for local park grants aimed at building new facilities and acquiring additional park land. The legislature recently restored $15.5 million to the grants program over the next two years and provided an additional $869,000 to maintain administrative staff that will not count against local parks departments’ grant requests.

The Michigan Recreation and Park Association (MRPA) has partnered with Mousetrap Mobile to unveil SMART Parks, a free custom mobile app and text alert service. SMART Parks allows park and recreation departments to reach residents on-the-go with updates via text alert, while the mobile app component displays park website and event information in an easy-to-navigate mobile format. The customizable mobile apps, which can be accessed through local park and recreation websites on any mobile device or downloaded through iTunes and the Android Market, provide park and recreation information for each community that has signed up with MRPA as a “SMART Park.” Port Huron, Oakland County, Howell, Grand Blanc, Oxford, Frankenmuth, the Southeastern Livingston County Recreation Authority (SELCRA) and the Michigan Amateur Softball Association (MASA) have already created apps that are live and available for download. Mobile users can choose which notifications they’d like to receive — from pool and beach closings to trail conditions to recreation game delays. Information is displayed clearly with descriptions and includes links to additional information, the community’s social media sites and more.