Communities Within Communities

November 1, 2015, Department, by Barbara Tulipane, CAE

NRPA President and CEO Barbara Tulipane, CAEI’m a military brat. Yes, I know there is a move afoot to use a more politically correct word but for me, military brat is not a derogatory term. To be even more specific I am a Marine Corps brat. Unlike other branches of service, the Marines are not usually allowed to take their families when they have an overseas assignment, so I don’t have the experience of living abroad. What I do have is the wonderful experience of growing up on military bases in the swampy Carolinas and on the beautiful Southern California coast. I’m sharing this because unlike most of you, I didn’t grow up using traditional park and recreation services.

When I was a kid a military base was essentially a community within a community. We bought our clothes at the PX, our groceries at the commissary and the occasional event of eating out meant going to the “club” — on base. In fact, venturing off base was a very rare event and while our choices may have been limited, we made out like bandits when it came to recreational opportunities and access to open space.

Because my father was a pilot, we lived on air bases, which meant that we always lived on a coast — near the ocean. This of course allowed us to take up boating, water skiing, surfing, crabbing, fishing, etc. It also meant that we had access to some of the tools used to train pilots. Our pool, for example, had a high dive that was really more of a tower for parachute training. It was a rite of passage when you mustered the courage to take the plunge, as it meant you were no longer a kid!

Our bases were also surrounded by woods that were then surrounded by a security fence. Our parents, therefore, didn’t care what we did as long as were home for dinner. We built elaborate forts (after all, we were military kids), and explored every inch of the forest. I learned the pecking order of nature when I watched with horror as a snake devoured an entire nest of bird eggs I had been protecting for days! I also learned the pecking order of humans as the games we played were ruled by the older kids due to the absence of coaches and parents! 

Perhaps this is why when I visit a county or a city I look for that sense of community where families have recreational opportunities, access to nature and a connection to each other. Building a community within a community is what you do for a living — creating a place where childhood memories become the treasured gifts of adults.

Barbara Tulipane, CAE, is NRPA's President and CEO