Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Agency Spotlight: Austin Parks and Recreation, Texas

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Agency Spotlight: Austin Parks and Recreation, Texas

Article excerpt

Municipality: Austin, Texas

Population: 885,400

Year Agency Founded: 1928

Annual Operating Budget: $72,591,252

Director: Sara L. Hensley, CPRP

Full-time Employees: 665

Seasonal Employees: 1,272

Volunteers: 13,221

Essential Information

More than 29,000 acres of parkland, 271 parks, 211 miles of trails, 94 sports fields, 77 basketball courts, 50 aquatics facilities, 20 recreation centers, 12 off-leash dog areas, 11 museums/arts and cultural centers, 10 stages/amphitheaters, six golf courses and five cemeteries.

Connecting Children to Nature

"We set our goals high," says Ryan Eaker, program coordinator at Austin Parks and Recreation's Lorraine "Grandma" Camacho Activity Center. "Austin is changing and growing, and our type of programming is in high demand. We want to reach as many different populations as we can to provide that outdoor programming for everyone."

Camacho employs a unique nature outreach program designed to work with its sister recreation centers, rather than angling for an audience all its own. Eaker points out that Camacho is an "activity center," not a traditional recreation center, and thus is without gym space or traditional sports programming. It's located on a hike and bike trail surrounding Lady Bird Lake in east-central Austin with access to a lagoon that provides opportunities for nature-based education. "Especially in the summertime, we use the trail as our highway," Eaker says. "Every day, all day, we're outside on bikes and boats."

Because Camacho lacks the sports programming that typically draws in youth and families, Eaker said its after-school activities were suffering. "We were competing with recreation centers within our own organization," he says. "We decided a couple of years ago to focus on something we've been doing for a several years anyway, and expanded the nature-based outreach for after-school enhancement programs. We offer those programs to 20 other rec centers in Austin on a daily basis." This means children in more urban areas of the city can access the same nature- and arts-based programming offered to regular Camacho visitors, without having to travel. "We put on different programs including geocaching, Waterbugs (a hands-on water ecology program), natural tie-dyeing where kids make dyes out of natural plants . …

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