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Congress has been hard at work over the past few years passing legislation that has major impacts on local parks and recreation.
During summer 2020, they passed the Great American Outdoors Act, securing $900 million in permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which finances local park infrastructure upgrades. During spring 2021, the American Rescue Plan sent $350 billion to state and local governments to help manage fiscal recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, significant portions of which were spent on park and recreation priorities. Later, during fall 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided billions more in new funding eligible for green infrastructure and active transportation projects. The executive branch set forth requirements for how these programs can be implemented, and now, this funding is flowing into communities.
It is key for local park and recreation departments to take full advantage of these new opportunities by working with your municipality to apply and receive financing for projects in your community. However, equally (if not more) important, showing your congressional representatives the immense value these programs will have can engender more support, and thus, funding for local park priorities in the future.
Summer is a great time to invite your elected officials and their staff out for site visits, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and press conferences. August Recess — a time when members of Congress are home in their state or district for much of the month — presents a particularly strong opportunity to influence change. Lawmakers love spending this time with constituents seeing the great work being done in the communities they represent. Trust us — it is a lot more fun and rewarding than their monotonous day-to-day time in Washington, D.C.
Pulling Off a Successful Event
Hosting a successful and enriching event requires some planning, but by no means is it an overwhelming or daunting task. To start, identify which aspect of your department’s work you want to show off. Maybe you constructed a new facility, playground or trail, or made improvements to existing assets. Or, perhaps, your team kicked off a new line of after-school or summer programming for kids. Bonus points for highlighting an initiative that leverages federal funding in some way!
Once you have identified a project or series of projects you want to show off, reach out to your lawmaker’s district office with an initial phone call or email. You will be able to find contact information on their website. It is important to do this early. As you can imagine, their schedules fill up quickly, and it is best to get on their radar at least a month in advance to ensure they can make time for a visit.
After you have locked in a time, date and run of show for a visit, spread the news about this event far and wide. Post on social media and invite local press to join the event. Also, let NRPA know so that we can provide support. In addition to the press, try inviting community leaders and local elected officials to join you as well. A truly successful event brings many voices together and shows how local park and recreation departments truly serve as hubs of community wellness and togetherness.
If you are interested in hosting an event but need some help getting started, do not hesitate to reach out to NRPA’s Public Policy and Advocacy team. We can provide all the resources you need, and once an event is on the books, we can help amplify it on our social media and can even feature you in an upcoming magazine article or blog post.
Let’s hit the ground running this August. We can’t wait to see the great events you put on!
Dan McCarthy is NRPA’s Advocacy Manager.