How Is a Park and Rec Agency Like a Swiss Army Knife?

August 1, 2019, Feature, by Tom Crosley

August 2019 Conference Feature Park and Rec Agency Swiss Army Knife 410

For many communities, their park and recreation department is like the Swiss Army knife of the local government. Agencies take on a wide variety of responsibilities far from the typical playground management and fitness classes. The public may be surprised to learn that park and recreation departments are tasked with duties, such as maintaining the local cemetery, snow removal or operating a farm or ranch. Being flexible and willing to accommodate added responsibilities are crucial to their role in local government and, ultimately, to the fulfillment of their department’s mission.

Increasingly, communities are looking to park and recreation departments for solutions to challenging social problems. That’s why NRPA provides education at our annual conference on trending issues, unique community dynamics and unconventional practices, such as the following:

Challenge: Engaging Diverse Populations

Not Another Ball Game: Diverse Programs for Diverse Populations
Diversity surrounds us, but do we program for it? Or, do we continue with traditional programming, leaving some residents behind and denying them the physical and psychological benefits of recreation programming? Traditional programs, such as sports leagues, camps or afterschool programs, are valuable, but diverse interests require diverse programs! This session will discuss dimensions of diversity, behavior and life stages as it relates to programming. We’ll share four specific programs that Idaho Falls Parks & Rec did to reach new people in new ways. NRPA advocates that park and rec agencies embrace social equity and the philosophy that “it is a right, not a privilege” for our residents to expect agencies to think beyond the traditional programs that flood our agencies and provide diverse program for diverse interests. Speakers: Roberto Abreo and Chris Horsley

Challenges: Opioid Epidemic and Homelessness

Managing Your Parks During an Opioid and Homelessness Crisis
Over the past decade, public parks have experienced a dramatic increase in illicit behaviors that threaten the safety of park patrons and employees. These behaviors are tied to a challenging web of deeply rooted societal issues related to substance abuse, mental health and homelessness. Although the root causes of these issues are well beyond the scope of providing park services, our departments are often overwhelmed, as they attempt to manage the unintended impacts of these societal problems in our parks. The perception of safety in our parks is paramount to our success. If our citizens do not perceive our parks and facilities as safe, they will not use or value them. In response, the Olympia Parks Department created a Safe and Secure Parks Initiative to address this growing threat to its park system. This workshop will outline the process utilized in Olympia and will provide participants with the knowledge base and inspiration to create their own initiative. Speakers: Sylvana Niehuser and Paul Simmons

Challenge: Parks and Recreation as a Resource for Promoting Mental Health

Parks and Recreation Supporting Mental Health Challenges
Mental illness in the United States has become pervasive, with individuals suffering from many disorders. There are opportunities for practitioners in our field to support the mental health challenges many individuals face every day. This session will provide an overview of the myriad disorders that exist and how parks and recreation can help provide support to mental health agencies, mental health professionals and individuals who suffer from mental illness, as well as those who want to maintain good mental health. It is a well-known fact that exercise can improve physical health. We will explore examples of agencies from around the country that are doing their part to create better mental health in their communities. Speakers: April Chambers and Barbara Heller

Challenge: Building Community Climate Resiliency

Building Climate and Community Resilience Through Parks and Open Space
The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the globe. Local, regional and state governments are exploring ways to address and mitigate the effects of increased drought, floods, extreme heat, wildfires and sea-level rise. Parks and open spaces provide important benefits and opportunities to address these impacts, while offering co-benefits of health, wellness and community recreation. This session will explore those opportunities and engage participants in a discussion about how they can leverage state and federal hazard funding to improve parks, while battling climate change. Speakers: Mindy Craig and Matthew Espie

Challenge: Staying Relevant and Fresh

Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2020
What are the emerging trends in programming, design, management and technology for parks and recreation in 2020? This highly popular session covers them all, from geo-fencing to human composting. Presenters will throw in a dash of blue-sky thinking about what longer-term trends soon will be affecting parks and recreation and participants will be able to add their own observations and speculations. Come learn, speculate and prognosticate about what the future of parks and recreation will bring. Speaker: Rich Dolesh

Come to the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference this September 24–26 in Baltimore, to learn from practitioners who have “been there, done that” and are willing to share their knowledge and experience to help guide your journey in all the unconventional, but lofty, endeavors that your agency faces. There really is no other event that covers the breadth of what parks and recreation touches and where you not only get to learn, but also to contribute your own unique perspective.

Tom Crosley is NRPA's Senior Manager of Education, Conferences and Schools.