Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Memories in Anaheim: NRPA Congress Attendees Confident and Committed

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Memories in Anaheim: NRPA Congress Attendees Confident and Committed

Article excerpt

KNOWN AS A PLACE where memories are made every day Anaheim California, provided plenty of memorable moments for attendees of this year's NRPA Congress and Exposition After all not every Congress features a friendly six-foot tall raccoon, a display of fantasy custom motorcycles, top Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and a ride on Space Mountain. Yet, perhaps the most memorable moment came at the opening keynote, as a quiet description of an old, blind dog by the river at night under the stars brought thousands to their feet.

If last year's Congress sparked renewed optimism in the future for parks and recreation, this year that fire burned brightly with commitments to action in all three pillars of the profession: conservation, health and wellness, and social equity. More than 6,500 attendees learned, engaged, networked, and even played their way toward a greater holistic view of the field, advancing their role as leaders at the local level while pushing forward a national agenda for parks and recreation.

Pillars of the Field

The Opening General Session began with a beautiful performance by the local All-American Boys Chorus and an important announcement--the launch of a new partnership between NRPA and the National Wildlife Federation to bring 10 million kids out to nature in the next three years. NRPA President and CEO Barbara Tulipane explained that the goal is to recruit at least 1,000 participating agencies, because every agency, whether it has land or not, has the resources to help connect kids with nature.

She challenged attendees with the question, "What is your agency doing to inspire your community?" Studies have shown that the number one reason people support parks is to protect open space and wildlife. Now, those conservation efforts can be translated into a dollars-and-cents economic impact as well, thanks to efforts like the growing PRORAGIS database and the new eco-benefits calculator.

Outgoing Chair Bob Johnson then took the stage to discuss the second pillar of NRPA--health and wellness. With half of the U.S. population projected to become obese by 2030, Johnson said that the solution was "right here in this arena."

"We have the people, the space, the programs, and the knowledge. We're local and we're affordable; we just need to get out and tell our story," Johnson said.

He directed attendees to resources for data and messaging like California's "Parks Make Life Better," Missouri's "Did You Know," and the new tool kits from America's Backyard. He said the challenge is "to think about how you can spread the word."

Incoming Chair Steve Thompson noted that the third pillar--social equity--is a building block for fulfilling the other two pillars.

"It means ensuring that parks and recreation are equally accessible to all people," Thompson said. "It's a right, not a privilege, to have access."

He pointed out that the American population is growing both older and more diverse. One way NRPA encourages initiatives to build equity is through the Parks Build Community program. For this year's El Sereno project in East Los Angeles, a number of different partners were involved. How the park is transforming the community was already evident at the Community Build Day a few weeks prior to Congress. Thompson concluded by forecasting a bright future for parks as the profession improves and reinvents itself, saying that NRPA will be there with education, information, and research.

The Crap Factor

ECONOMIST LOWELL CATLETT, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Services and Regents' professor at New Mexico State University, then launched into an engaging keynote presentation that linked the subjects of economics, human health, parks, and reconnecting people with nature. Catlett noted that with housing, food, and utilities at their lowest cost in history in the United States, disposable income (which he memorably called "the crap factor") has now reached almost 70 percent of the average American's income. …

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