The Importance of Parks

October 31, 2019, Feature, by Lindsay Collins

2019 November Feature Parks Matter 410

Building community through stories in Baltimore

Most people would readily agree that parks play a critical role in the physical, social and mental health of communities. They’ll even entertain the idea that they save lives, but they literally do and did for some residents of Paradise, California, the site of one of the deadliest California wildfires last November. The audience at this year’s Opening General Session in Baltimore listened intently as Jack Kardys, chair of the NRPA Board of Directors, told the story of how some residents were able to escape their homes and take shelter in a metal structure in the park, where they used water from hoses as a defense from the flames. “So, if you ever doubt that what you do as a park professional matters,” he says, “remember this story.”

Parks and park professionals do matter, and it was a refrain echoed by Kristine Stratton, NRPA’s president and CEO, who shared her own experiences growing up as a “park and rec kid” in Maine, as well as the story of local community activist, Derwin Hannah, whose passion for parks and community developed from a childhood spent in his local park playing sports with friends. Then, as a parent in Baltimore, after noticing the lack of safe play spaces for children in his neighborhood, Hannah garnered support for a park renovation in his neighborhood to bring in the resources and amenities the community needed. “Derwin’s story is important because it symbolizes an opportunity for all of us,” says Stratton. “We must harness the passion in our communities — like Derwin’s — to not only support the good work we do now, but to stand with us to create a parks movement.” (Watch the 2019 Parks Build Community project video.)

Stories are a powerful way to bring others into an experience, and attendees were enthralled by the stories of perseverance told by none other than Baltimore’s baseball legend and “Iron Man,” Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken, who is most famous for setting the record of most consecutive games played with a final total of 2,632 back-to-back games over 16 years, shared how he was able to endure to provide numerous contributions to the Baltimore Orioles and to the game of baseball. Ultimately, he says, “it boils down to eight qualities: the right approach, a strong will to succeed, passion, love to compete, consistency, conviction, strength and life management. With the right combination of these characteristics, anyone has the ability to persevere,” he believes.

At the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference, attendees had countless opportunities to learn, network and brainstorm with other park and recreation professionals from across the country. In addition to the hundreds of education sessions offered, social events — such as the opening party (sponsored by GameTime), new member paint and sip social, golf tournament, 5K run and sunrise yoga — were available for attendees to get out and socialize and make the most of their time in Baltimore.

And, the inspiration didn’t end with the Opening General Session. During the Closing General Session, disability rights activist and the first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, Haben Girma, awed the audience with her story of achievements, not despite her disabilities, but because of them. Girma emphasized that our differences as individuals, including disabilities, are not limitations, but rather a force to drive innovation. “People with disabilities and their communities succeed when the community decides to dismantle digital, attitudinal and physical barriers,” Girma says, as she, through her interpreter and a keyboard, showed an audience how easy it was to participate in a Q&A session with her. Visit Haben Girma's website to learn more.

A1 Chops, the Baltimore drumming duo of Timothy Fletcher and Malik Perry, took the energy level up a notch to close out the 2019 Annual Conference. They are committed to giving back to the community, traveling to Baltimore schools to inspire young kids to dream. The pair brought the audience to its feet with their high-energy drumming and the performance flair to match. To view the performance, visit the NRPA Facebook page.

Exploring the Exhibit Hall

As if being in the field of parks and recreation wasn’t already a perk, try experiencing the NRPA Annual Conference Exhibit Hall, where attendees are encouraged to swing, slide, climb, play, learn and interact at the booths of more than 400 exhibitors. This year’s winner of Best in Show for an island booth was Landscape Structures Inc. (LSI) for its display of the Super Netplex®, a floor-to-ceiling play structure with slides and climbing nets reaching 20 feet high. “The Super Netplex® includes a Spiral Belt Climber that winds its way from ground level up to a 12-foot high deck, giving kids with less lower body strength or mobility an easy way to access thrilling heights,” says Jill Dunning-Harris, marketing product manager for LSI. “The belt has a soft, grippy texture that is comfortable for walking, crawling or scooting and is durable to withstand rigorous play. Interior and exterior cables provide additional climbing routes to accommodate lots of kids at the same time.”

The winner of the 2019 Best in Show for in-line booth was REI Co-op for its unique design and visitor engagement. What initially drew the judges in was a simple chalkboard outside the booth, sporting a welcoming message to NRPA attendees — a small detail that showed the judges REI was not only there to showcase its products, but also to interact with park and recreation professionals to learn how REI can best serve the industry. For an inside look at the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference Exhibit Hall, visit the NRPA Facebook page to view the tour.

Recognizing the Best in Parks and Recreation

A celebratory atmosphere enlivened the ballroom during the Best of the Best ceremony held Wednesday night at the Baltimore Hilton, as the evening’s master of ceremonies, former NRPA board member Neelay Bhatt introduced the recipients. The following park and recreation professionals and agencies were recognized for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the field:

Scholarships and Fellowships
Student Scholarship

  • Kandice Newton
  • Kristen Sikorski

Diversity Scholarship

  • Attiyya Atkins
  • LaCleveia Morley

Young Professional Fellowship

  • Jeremy Bajdaun
  • Luke Bolinger
  • Sarah Hansen
  • Elissa Malone

Park Champion of the Year

  • Metro Parks Tacoma

Spotlight Awards
National Distinguished Professional Award

  • Dirk Richwine

Robert M. Artz Advocate Award

  • Chris Riley

Robert W. Crawford Young Professional Award

  • Gerry Logan

RWJF-NRPA Award for Healthy Equity

  • Tina Fleming and Lindsey Jorstad

Innovation Awards
Innovation in Conservation Award

  • Metroparks Toledo

Innovation in Park Design Award

  • Three Rivers Park District

Innovation in Social Equity Award

  • City of Santa Clarita

Innovation in Health Award and Overall Best in Innovation Award

  • City of Port St. Lucie Parks and Recreation

For more information on the Innovation Award winners and their projects, check out the December 2019 issue of Parks & Recreation. To learn more about award opportunities, visit NRPA's award webpage.

Women in Parks and Recreation

During the opening reception, sponsored by GameTime at the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Stadium, roughly 100 of the 3,000 members of the recently formed Women in Parks and Recreation group, gathered on the field for an inaugural meeting and group photo. The group was established on Facebook this past July by Lakita Watson, executive director of Richland County (South Carolina) Recreation Commission and, since then, has grown quickly. According to the Facebook page, it “was created to meet the need for valuable collaboration and information sharing [among] women working in and supporting the parks, recreation and leisure services professions.” In a Facebook live video, Watson addressed the group, stating, “We as women in parks and recreation have so many great things going for us, and together we can do anything…I want to open up more doors for more women to be leaders in our field, so that’s what this page is about. It’s about giving back to those individuals who gave important [things] to me.” To learn more about the group, visit the Facebook page.

NRPA Members Advocate on Capitol Hill

On Friday, September 27, NRPA’s Public Policy committee and nearly 50 conference attendees traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress or their staff to advocate for local parks and recreation. Throughout the morning, more than 50 meetings were held, each asking Congress to preserve our nation’s public spaces and ensure access to health and wellness opportunities for all. To learn more about the event, view the November 2019 Advocacy column.

Building Bonds in Baltimore and Beyond

The 2019 Annual Conference is in the history books, and preparations are already underway to provide NRPA members with the best content and networking opportunities at the 2020 Annual Conference, scheduled for October 27–29 in Orlando, Florida. To submit a session proposal, visit the 2020 NRPA Annual Conference call for proposals webpage. To exhibit in Orlando, visit the 2020 NRPA Annual Conference exhibitors webpage. Registration for the 2020 NRPA Annual Conference opens on Monday, May 11, 2020. We can’t wait to see you there!

Lindsay Collins is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.