Last month, President Obama appointed REI CEO Sally Jewell as the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, replacing Ken Salazar once he steps down this month. Jewell has headed the successful outdoor outfitting company for eight years, and previously worked in the private sectors of oil, banking, and business. Her nomination has been widely applauded by natural resource nonprofits and outdoor-focused companies nationwide. Upon her approval through Senate hearings and confirmation, she will take the post in March.
The park and recreation community has lost three longtime advocates in recent months with the passing of Helen Doria, Bob Robertson, and Chester Freeman. Doria was instrumental in creating programs for teenagers through the 1980s and 1990s in Chicago city parks, and she later became a founding member of the City Parks Alliance. A tireless advocate for city parks nationwide, Doria may be best remembered as the executive director of Chicago’s Millennium Park. In Alaska, Robertson served as director of the Albany, Corvallis, and Anchorage Departments of Parks and Recreation over his career, and he was also a founding member of the Alaska Recreation and Park Association. He represented the NRPA Citizen Board both as president and vice president, and he also served on NRPA’s Board of Trustees. Freeman, another NRPA trustee, spent more than 30 years developing parks and recreation in Cullman, Alabama. All three leaders leave an impressive legacy for their colleagues to follow.
After the Detroit City Council failed to vote in time on a proposal by the State of Michigan to turn over operations of Belle Isle Park to the state, Governor Rick Snyder pulled the proposal. The offer would have saved the city $6 to $8 million in maintenance fees per year, and as a result of the failed deal, Detroit Mayor David Bing has announced that the city will have to close 50 city parks this spring to make up for the deficit. A number of other cuts will be made to park services as well. Since 2008, the Detroit Recreation Department has reduced its number of operating parks from 317 to 57 due to budgetary constraints. A cadre of 108 volunteer groups has adopted different parks around Detroit, and they have vowed to work tirelessly to keep the parks in usable shape.
In early February, the Memphis City Council approved a measure to rename three city parks that currently honor the Confederacy and two of its major leaders. In a 9-0 decision, the resolution changed the name of Confederate Park to Memphis Park, Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park, and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park. The idea for the resolution came after council members learned of a state House bill that would prevent parks named after historical military figures from being renamed. While some residents decried the change, opining that it downplays the significance of the Confederacy and the Civil War in Memphis history, the decision was applauded by most locals.
After decades of informal public use, the clothing-optional Pirate’s Cove area of Avila Beach is now part of California’s San Luis Obispo County’s park system. The county’s Board of Supervisors accepted the title to the 27-acre property in February and plans to begin a $1.4-million upgrade that will include a new parking lot, restrooms, a trail connecting Pirate’s Cove to Shell Beach, and improved access trails to the beach. Although the site’s most popular feature is the secluded, 3,100-foot-long nude beach at Pirate's Cove, the property also includes a series of informal trails that lead to sea caves and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. The area is also rich in Native American artifacts. Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes Pirate’s Cove, said he supports continuing current uses of the property.
Amanda Erika, New Orleans City Park’s only black swan, is healing gracefully after an attack in early February left her with a badly injured ankle. The unknown assailant also broke all of the eggs in her nest. Veterinarians performed surgery to repair her open wound and a protruding joint on her left leg, and they indicated she should soon be ready to be released back into the wild. City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her attacker.
In late January, two Washington State prison inmates dove into the freezing, fast-moving Salmon Creek to save three young boys whose kayak had capsized. The men were performing supervised maintenance work in a public park when they heard the boys’ screams. One inmate immediately jumped in and gathered the boys together, ultimately getting them to a small island in the middle of the river. The second inmate then jumped in to help get the boys to shore, while a third helped fire crews inflate their rescue boat and transport the boys to a waiting ambulance. The three inmates, who are serving time for non-violent crimes, downplay their “hero” labels, saying they did what anyone else in that situation would do.
The Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) is now accepting entries for its Green Star Awards Program, which brings national recognition to exceptional grounds management programs and their crews. Contest officials will judge entries based on sustainability practices and policies, turf management, landscape design, and more, and Grand, Honor, and Merit Awards are offered in 15 categories covering all types of private, public, commercial, and industrial landscapes. To enter or learn more, visit www.pgms.org/green-star-awards. The deadline is July 29, 2013.
Alabama’s House Economic Development and Tourism Committee recently voted in favor of legislation that will allow the state to build a hotel and convention center along the shoreline of Gulf State Park. The white-sand beachfront was home to an old state park lodge until Hurricane Ivan irreparably damaged it in 2004. Proponents of the plan say the new developments will bring tourism revenue to the state, which often loses out against the sprawling beaches of neighboring Florida, but opponents argue that it will restrict average state residents and visitors from enjoying some of Alabama’s only state-owned beachfront property.
To celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial and the centennial of its state park system in 2016, officials are searching for a significant piece of land that could be developed into a new park. The agency is looking at land in the east-central part of the state and has narrowed down a few options, but officials are still considering new potential candidates and will likely not announce their decision until early 2014. The state opened McCormick’s Creek, its first state park, in the summer of 1916.
In Boise, Idaho, a pilot program allowing dogs to be off-leash in most of Ann Morrison Park has successfully gotten rid of many of the park’s geese. The program, which ran from November to February, sought to take advantage of the predator-prey relationship between the geese and the dogs. It has been successful in reducing the goose population at Ann Morrison without increasing the number of geese at the other area parks. Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway plans to recommend the program again next winter and may consider the same off-leash program in other places.
A Los Angeles plan to establish three small city parks in neighborhoods with a large concentration of sex offenders is going forward in a directed effort to force the offenders to move elsewhere. California law bars sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school, so once the three parks are built, proximate offenders will be required to move. A park measuring only one-fifth of an acre is already going up in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood, and upon its completion, 33 sex offenders in a nearby apartment complex will be forced out. While some sex-offender advocates decry the plan, many city politicians have given it their full support. One state senator has also proposed a bill that would ban registered sex offenders from public places such as parks, libraries, and museums.
Despite considerable opposition, Missouri’s St. Louis County Council recently approved an outdoor treetop activities course with a zip line, swings, and hanging obstacles for Creve Coeur Park. The St. Louis Audubon Society had opposed the proposal, concerned about the impact the aerial park would have on bird populations and their habitat. Resident opposition to the previously proposed location, Greensfelder Park in Wildwood, prompted the move to Creve Coeur Park. Go Ape!, the company that proposed the course, will design, build, and staff it, and says it will be constructed and operated in a way that ensures environmental impacts are minimized.
Hundreds of Texas A&M University students are helping replant Bastrop State Park after a 2011 wildfire decimated thousands of acres. More than 96 percent of the park’s forest was destroyed by the fire, deemed one of the worst in Texas history. Volunteers from the university, headlined by the Aggie Replant service group, plan to plant 30,000 pine-tree seedlings this spring to help restore the state park.
A power plant in Chula Vista, California, was recently imploded to clear views to the ocean and make land available for a new city park. The plant, which has been part of the San Diego Bay waterfront since the 1950s, required 200 pounds of charges and 300 pounds of dynamite for the demolition. Approximately 7,000 people watched it implode. The plant was infamously known as a major local polluter, but plans for a park will bring new life to the site.
A phosphate company in Florida has offered the state 4,100 acres of woods and wetlands for free as part of a legal settlement, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has turned down the offer, stating that the agency does not have the budget to maintain the property long-term. The site, known as Peaceful Horse Ranch, was on the state’s shortlist of properties it considered acquiring in 2010, but costs prevented the acquisition. DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard also stated that the department’s high standards for state parks led officials to turn down the donation. The land will instead go to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Former NBA player Bill Walton has helped found a new crowdsourcing startup website, www.fundourpark.com, which will help provide development and maintenance funds for parks around the world. With budget deficits facing parks everywhere and the rate of obesity rising in the United States, Walton says the need for adequate park funding is more important than ever. FundOurPark’s recently released platform allows individuals, city officials, private park owners, churches, youth leagues, clubs, and schools to post a project as long as they meet the site’s guidelines. Built-in reward programs provide incentive for donors, and the crowdsourcing method offers a practical way to raise needed funds.