I built my first park when I was 10; it was called Creektown. I didn’t need an architectural design or a building permit, much less parental consent. As neighborhood kids, we were the contractors. I grew up at the end of the street next to the woods and no one but us kids knew where Creektown was.
We built a trail system supported by pretend shops, homes and schools. We used high-end products like rocks, sticks and mud. Without really understanding it at the time, it was our connection to nature, to each other and to an imaginary world we created.
I have been a lucky person to grow up loving the outdoors and building parks for a living. As a member of NRPA since 1978, I have witnessed a lot of change in our organization. Celebrating our 50th year in Las Vegas provided an easy trip down memory lane. So many good people came before us, creating the powerful organization we are today.
NRPA is focused on addressing the fundamental issues we all face in our communities, including health, safe access to the outdoors and serving those in need. Now more than ever, we have learned that promoting healthy lifestyles is inherent in having a healthy community. We know that providing safe access to the outdoors and connecting kids to nature is critical to that health. This is especially true for children who are not growing up as we did — free to play outside, wandering, exploring and creating.
It’s striking that in our 50th year, we have 50,000 members…just think of all the people we touch each day! We’ve been providing opportunities for living a life outdoors, for exercising and playing in community centers and for giving people a way to lead healthy lives. The NRPA Board is committed to making sure these opportunities are enhanced by supporting the profession through additional programs and grants.
We have made a strategic decision to get back to our roots. NRPA was created not just as a professional organization but also as a charitable organization with a focus on advocacy and education. In the coming year, we are going to seek out people, companies and other organizations that understand the power of parks and recreation and who can bring financial resources to the table so we can multiply these opportunities.
This coming year, I get the special opportunity to serve as NRPA Board Chair. In 2016, the NRPA Annual Conference comes here to St. Louis, and each year, NRPA leaves a legacy park in the host city through its Parks Build Community initiative. I am very grateful that the City of Wellston in St. Louis County, part of our St. Vincent Greenway, has been chosen.
My hope is that this special park — named “Trojan Park” in honor of the former local high school mascot — becomes a magical place for the children who live nearby and provides them with a connection to nature, each other and the imaginary world they create.
Susan Trautman, CPRP, is the Chair of NRPA's Board of Directors.