Recreation opportunities under the guise of federal agencies are easy to point out: the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Forest Service are all havens for even the most diverse populations of American recreators. So does it come as a surprise that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hosts the largest number of recreation visits each year on federal land? Not to Lieutenant General Brad Flowers, its commander and chief of engineers. "Recreation is a natural result of creating projects that are multi-purpose. You can take a project whose basic purposes may be flood control, water supply and hydropower and add recreation to it and it's a natural complement. I think it's something very significant to note, so that you will get a benefit from a project far beyond its primary purpose, be it flood control or navigation or a hydropower project. And recreation, what we're finding, is a benefit that continues in perpetuity as long as the project lasts."
Bigger Than You Think
The USACE has some staggering numbers. They operate over 2,500 recreation areas at 463 projects and lease an additional 1,800 sites to state or local park and recreation authorities or private investors. The Corps registers over 360 million annual visits to their lakes and beaches. One in ten Americans visit a Corps project at least once a year. More than 600,000 jobs are generated by these visitors. With such heavy traffic of recreation users and visitors, maintaining a satisfactory level of management and supervision is an ongoing process.
"We are working very hard to improve the quality of our recreational facilities, and the training of our rangers and personnel who are providing or enabling recreation," said Flowers. "The task we have at modernizing and maintaining all the recreation facilities is a tough one. We're looking for innovative ways to achieve it. For example, we're working with local communities for sponsorship. Using military units from the guard and reserve to also adopt recreation areas, we're encouraging community projects to improve facilities. We're even taking a look at using corporate sponsorship to improve some of the recreation sites."
The Corps Point of View
Acknowledging the inherent value of recreation and the need to provide recreational leadership from rangers and Corps staff is the first step in maintaining the Corps quality of professionalism. Flowers believes that building upon the values instilled by the Army and the Corps will lead to a better breed of recreational leaders. "I think that one of the things that makes us unique as an organization is that we are values-based, and so we try to view an ethos in all our employees, including our rangers that is values based, that talks about an organization that serves the public, and prides itself on service to the public."
A strategy that Flowers brought with him to his position is one that can be applied to any leadership role, especially those of recreation managers and programmers. "We provide every one of our rangers with a `Do It' card, which asks them three questions. Is it good for my customer? Is it legal and ethical? Am I willing to be accountable? And if you can answer `yes' to these three questions, then don't ask for my permission, you already have it from the chief of engineers."
Having faith in the decisions your employees make is perhaps the most important aspect of any organization. Knowing that your training and philosophical approach in conducting your service is congruent with all those involved, from leadership to volunteer staff, creates a unified front for the benefit of the public.
Success in Partnerships
Water-based recreation is the foundation of the USACE activity program. Building bridges and dams, monitoring flood control measures and conducting environmental stewardship may be the invitations for engineers, but these projects are heavily maintained by rangers and recreation programmers. …