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It seems like just last week when I transitioned to the NRPA board chair role during the 2018 NRPA Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, with three things in mind: 1) collaborating, partnering and further developing a nationwide park movement that builds on coalitions, alliances and partnerships; 2) owning the voices of NRPA’s Pillars by taking deeper dives into research and data delivery, especially in the areas of resiliency, urban revitalization and economic impact; and 3) returning to NRPA’s roots by rebuilding our philanthropic capacity.
As the board developed an agenda focused on a new strategic plan, President and CEO Barbara Tulipane announced her retirement, and a national recruitment for a new leader and subsequent reorganization at headquarters began. After eight months of due diligence, our board transition team ultimately selected Kristine Stratton to lead NRPA. And, despite a national pandemic creating chaos throughout the nation, this incredible board of directors and Kristine’s leadership team collectively developed an amazing work plan that included:
- Finalizing a five-year actionable and inspirational Strategic Plan built on our pillars of community Health and Wellness, Equity and Conservation
- Establishing a board Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force that developed internal-and external-facing strategies and established a new vice president of education and chief equity officer
- Initiating cooperative international agreements with our counterparts in Canada, Mexico and Australia
- Leading the public policy charge to get the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Great Outdoors Act permanently signed into law
- Creating a development manager position at headquarters and re-energizing philanthropy, while connecting and leveraging it with corporate sponsorships
- Establishing new partnerships with our state affiliates at the Council of State Executive Directors (CSED), City Park Alliance and World Urban Parks to drive the Parks Movement effort
NRPA’s leadership inside and outside of the United States in COVID-19 response and park reopening has been our biggest challenge and most critical success. Rather than allow it to threaten our momentum, we used data analytics to establish a new normal, with the biggest decision of all being to pivot from a physical conference to a virtual conference format.
As I wrap up my tenure as board chair, I want to thank the incredible volunteers who have worked so hard these past two years as your NRPA Board of Directors! And, as I look ahead, here are just some of our opportunities:
- We can continue to serve as the beacon for best practices in our profession by developing a comprehensive continuum of professional development that creates a common language, standards and measurement, and connects academics, certification, accreditation and Gold Medal recognition
- We can work with our state associations, allied park nonprofits and World Urban Parks to ensure the strategies for our pandemic recovery and the projected budgetary impacts are mitigated to every extent possible through durable and coordinated advocacy that focuses on revenue stabilization and infrastructure stimulus
- As we advance community health and equity, we can level the economic playing field and re-establish our role in youth sports, working with the President’s Council on Sports, Physical Fitness and Nutrition
- As a key component of a national Parks Movement, we can continue building on the 10 Minute Walk movement to include the establishment of local “park districts” with permanent, dedicated and sustainable funding in every community across this nation
- Without reinventing the wheel, we can learn so much from our international partners, like the Canadian “Parks for All” model, and create a similar unified national public policy framework for parks and recreation in the United States
And, if a Parks Movement is to mean anything, we must infuse intelligence and human compassion into today’s political dialogue, actively managing our parks systems and transcending party politics to speak up for what is right, and defend what will endure as tributes to healing and social justice throughout our nation’s public parks. To do that, we must believe that we are strong, we are confident, we are selfless, we are passionate, we are driven and we are essential. WE ARE PARKS AND RECREATION!
Jack Kardys is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.