Have you ever felt the need to simply step outside your office at times, enjoy the fresh air, and see something green? This need to embrace the great outdoors is what pushed us to take on the necessary roles to be involved in the 2012 National Visit a Park Day. We appreciate the natural spaces that have been set aside for people to recreate and commune with nature. A day like this gives everyone a reason to take advantage of their local parks and find out all that they have to offer.
As mentioned in the mission statement, National Visit a Park Day is a day where we encourage our community members to set aside unnecessary obligations and visit a local, state, regional, or national park so we can provide educational and recreational opportunities to foster future enjoyment, visitation, and advocacy toward our park systems. Parks are unique in the sense that they can provide a multitude of experiences while enhancing the quality of life for visitors and their surrounding communities. In addition, a park can be a catalyst to provide opportunities for park and recreation professionals and community advocates to educate, recreate, and escape the rigors of everyday life. In other words, National Visit a Park Day highlights our parks as personal sanctuaries that may inspire each individual to a feeling of tranquility and happiness.
Just as we have done in previous Visit a Park Day years, the Young Professional Network (YPN) reached out nationwide to municipalities, nonprofits, and educational institutions regarding last year’s event in a variety of ways. The fundamental aspect of this communication was not to dictate program ideas or increase workloads, but to educate on the benefits of our individual park systems and showcase how each park benefits the community. Through press releases, email blasts, and print and social media advertising, the YPN continued to think outside the box as it relates to advertising for this event. Furthermore, various organizations, such as the Oklahoma Recreation and Park Society and the New York State Recreation and Parks Society, once again aided in the marketing process by utilizing their online media sources to spread the word about the event. Additionally, in conjunction with NRPA, a formal online registration system was created for interested user groups to officially sign up for the event. This created a more dynamic tool for gathering information and detailed feedback regarding specific Visit a Park Day events. With information-gathering tools such as this, the YPN can continue to ensure the success of this event moving forward.
When gauging success, one can use different parameters with events such as this. For example, an event can be a success because it generates revenue, obtains certain participation levels, and/or contributes to the greater social good. Without requiring each organization to formally register and track financial and participation numbers, it might be difficult to base the success of this event given such constraints.
However, it is not difficult to determine whether Visit a Park Day was a success based on how it contributes to the greater good of society. Being able to provide an opportunity for local municipalities, nonprofits, and educational institutions to identify ways to utilize their parks for the betterment of their community is a powerful resource. Ask the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, which facilitated a family-friendly event on Visit a Park Day that was geared toward bringing awareness to all of the parks within this community. The department’s dedicated staff provided fun activities, games, free food, and great music, and they capped off the day with an outdoor three-on-three basketball tournament. Success stories such as Takoma Park show how National Visit a Park Day can be so beneficial to each community that participates.
National Visit a Park Day is bigger than what we do on a daily basis. This event symbolizes the importance of taking a step back, getting outdoors, and pursuing the happiness that only parks can bring to us. Whether your participants join programs such as old-fashioned tailgate games as they did in the Town of Fountain Hills, Arizona, or take a hike on a new trail system offered in Farmington, New Mexico, this event helps reconnect people to the great outdoors and educates the public on the importance of our local, state, regional, and national parks. In 2013, the Young Professional Network will have the opportunity to continue this remarkable event and further enhance park advocacy across the nation. Whenever you begin to stare at a computer screen or feel too distracted with other obligations, perhaps it is time to take a step back and head outside to your personal sanctuary in nature, wherever that might be.
Chris Lucas and Jennifer Upah were Co-Chairs of the 2012 Visit a Park Day Committee. Chris Lucas is the Sports and Fitness Program Supervisor in the Highlands Ranch Community Association in Highlands Ranch, Colorado (firstname.lastname@example.org). Jennifer Upah is a Teaching Assistant Professor and Director of Internships in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism program at the University of Missouri (email@example.com).