The Public Mandate for Conservation: The Future of Parks and Recreation Depends on Our Response

By Dolesh, Richard J. | Parks & Recreation, January 2012 | Go to article overview

The Public Mandate for Conservation: The Future of Parks and Recreation Depends on Our Response


Dolesh, Richard J., Parks & Recreation


THIS ISSUE KICKS OFF A NEW PARKS & RECREATION COLUMN dedicated to conservation and parks. With the recent completion of the Report of the Conservation Task Force (See the November, 2011, issue), NRPA is moving on a number of fronts to implement the recommendations of the Task Force and to involve more agencies in conservation practices at the community level.

Why is conservation becoming increasingly important to parks and recreation? For some agencies, the answer is simple: Conservation has simply been part of their DNA from the beginning. Many special park districts, for example, were formed with a conservation mission--to acquire and manage land for purposes of stewardship, protecting watersheds or water supply areas, or buffering the effects of development.

Many park and recreation agencies, either by design or by the gradual accumulation of parks and open space tracts, are the largest owners of public lands in their jurisdictions. Many other agencies have focused less on land acquisition and preservation than on providing recreation services, programs, and facilities.

Regardless of how prominently land figures in an agency's mission and character, the public is coming increasingly to expect that all public lands--especially parks--be managed with conservation as a priority. This shift in public opinion is tied to a growing consensus that quality of life in communities is integrally linked to environmental quality--that clean air, clean water, protected open space, vibrant natural communities, and diverse wildlife habitats, are just as important as sound economic development, well-developed transportation infrastructure, and high-quality educational systems.

Increasingly, terms such as "green infrastructure," "sustainable landscapes," and "livable communities" are finding their way into the lexicon of public parks and recreation. Citizens expect their park and recreation agencies to be leaders in improving the quality of life and the health of their communities. And, to that end, they demand improvements like integrating healthy landscapes into park design, managing natural settings that are safe and healthy for children, and reducing costs by conserving energy and following sustainable practices. Conservation practices are also cost savings practices--and taxpayers expect their parks and recreation managers to demonstrate leadership in both.

Our future depends on our recognition that the public wants and expects us to make conservation a top priority. As we respond to this public mandate, we will, I believe, see increases in volunteerism, and citizen advocacy for parks' budgets, services, facilities, and programs.

The opportunities for park and recreation agencies to become involved in the practice of conservation are truly exciting. Whether your agency is just dipping its toe in the water or whether you have decades of experience in conservation practices, both the needs and opportunities have never been greater. …

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