Natural Collaborations: Inter-Departmental Partnerships Can Help Park and Recreation Agencies Manage More Efficiently

Article excerpt

Park and recreation agencies face a complex dilemma of how to maintain current facilities and programs with an ever-shrinking budget. Through an archaic system of strict districting created during a period of government prosperity, park administrators are left with little choice but to consider cutting services. But there is a workable solution using manageable concepts such as collaboration, cooperation and solidarity. These options can provide answers to the budgetary epidemic that is infecting our park systems nationwide.

While visiting Portland in 1903, famed landscape architect and planner John Olmsted noted, "No city can be considered properly equipped without an adequate park system ... Parks not only add to the beauty of a city and to the pleasure of living in it, but are exceedingly important factors in developing the healthfulness, morality, intelligence and business prosperity of its residents."

As early as 1928, reports were published that suggested inter-bureau cooperation was needed to help study and plan for future management of national parks and forests. In 1962, the Report of the National Conference on Outdoor Recreation suggested that recreation agencies at the regional level should pursue interagency cooperation. Forty years later, it is apparent that regional recreation agencies have become increasingly fragmented because of this lack of cooperation.

According to the California State Park System Statistical Report from fiscal year 2001/2002, of the 266 units and properties managed by the department, 28 of these parks are operated by local government agencies or by non-profit organizations. Initially it might seem as though collaboration between state and local agencies does occur.

A closer examination of one such collaborative reveals a successful merger of assets. The California State Parks' Kings Beach State Recreation Area (SRA) is currently managed by the North Tahoe Recreation and Park District. By jointly administering the Kings Beach SRA, both the state park system and the North Tahoe Recreation and Park District benefit. The property is owned by California State Parks and can be considered one of California's capital assets. The North Tahoe Recreation and Park District effectively controls the day-to-day operations of the property, which gives it primary control over park operations.

This system works much like the relationship between a landlord and a tenant. The landlord (California State Parks) reaps the benefits that ownership includes, but the tenant (North Tahoe Recreation and Park District) is the actual holder of the property and therefore controls its daily operation. Both entities benefit from the arrangement.

Additionally, the North Tahoe Recreation and Park District does not need to spend additional public funds to construct facilities that Kings Beach SRA would provide. For example, if the North Tahoe Recreation and Park District was interested in purchasing lakefront property to provide beach access to its constituents, the district would expect to pay a minimum of $10 to $20 million for lake front property based on recent real estate estimates before any improvements to the land were made. Add in the cost of environmental impact studies, public hearings, permits, building costs, etc., and the cost of providing a beach for the district's constituents becomes more than it can afford.

Instead, the North Tahoe Recreation and Park District partners with California State Parks that already owns a waterfront site, and is able to provide beach access at a fraction of the cost. It is a win-win for both agencies. "California park and recreation professionals have the acumen to develop effective joint arrangements," says Leslie Fritz, director of education for the California Park and Recreation Society. "They recognize and use qualities that produce cooperative success."

These winning relationships abound throughout the profession. …