Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hit a Homerun with Your Next Site Visit

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hit a Homerun with Your Next Site Visit

Article excerpt

Contacting federal legislators during a congressional recess can be easy and successful with the right approach.

President John F. Kennedy remarked that he looked forward to an America, "which will preserve ... squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future." More recently, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) called Washington, D.C., "19 square miles of irrational thinking." Kennedy was a leader in parks and recreation when he inspired the creation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helped launch the movement of smart growth and livable communities.

In contrast, Sen. Burns, though he is not as outspoken about his park and recreation beliefs as Kennedy, has still funded LWCF each year since he has been chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. These two decision makers would agree that parks and recreation are worthy initiatives; however, how these environmental amenities are funded through the political process is sometimes unclear.

So how do we-as the park and recreation community-make the most effective case for what park and recreation resources provide in a sea of vague political priority? By focusing on the neglected, but all-important, site visit.

If park and recreation advocates want to be serious in making their issues a priority with their federal legislators, they should attract decision makers to see their parks, facilities and programs in action. This visible connection creates a conducive environment to foster a mutually beneficial relationship.

Most legislators are able to relate to the benefits of parks and recreation, which have multiple advantages over other issues contending for national priority. Generally, most Americans value public recreation as a core element of their community. We have tangible programs and resources in action year-round. For most people, seeing this hometown-painted picture gives them a clear idea of what the policies or implications mean for federal funding at the local level. If you can make an emotional connection to your system and programs, then that personal interest and emotion will carry into the political arena.

When arranging a site visit, it is important to understand four components that make it worth your legislator's time: People, Place, Press and Recognition. If your planned site visit has a strong component of each, it increases the likelihood that your legislator will visit. Just as important, legislators tend to be in town during congressional breaks. Use these times to secure yourself in their schedule (see Action Alert). It can be as large as a community festival or as small as a park barbeque.


These people are the reason the legislator is in office. These are votes in an upcoming election. These are sources of the most powerful and reliable form of public relations-word of mouth. Combining or arranging your site visit with an event that can draw a crowd makes it more attractive to the legislator and his or her staff. That is why outreach to get people to the event could be the most crucial component. The event should be planned so it can be a success even if the legislator does not show up-meaning that there must be substance, and not a shallow public relations stunt that could "crash and burn" without the legislator.


Keep in mind that the main purpose of the site visit/event is to advance issues connected to federal law that your community cares about. In determining a site, you must relate it to the legislative priority you want to push. Be ready to coordinate a 15-minute tour that focuses on the talking points you want to convey. …

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