How to Talk to Parks Departments with Declining Budgets

Posted by Spalding Hurst

July 8, 2011

From American Whitewater Journal | Jul/Aug 2011

For public parks and recreation agencies, these are tough times. While big ambitions and goals are spoken of in DC through the potentially significant American Great outdoors (AGO) initiative, most parks and recreation agency budgets are getting slashed. Many park leaders look at AGo and wonder how serious it is when today’s budget cuts result in trails that go unrepaired, the closing of parks, and staff that are laid off or furloughed.

Despite severe budget cuts, a potential counter-intuitive truth does exist for paddlesports. Due to the high costs of traditional sports infrastructure, local parks and recreation agencies are looking for less expensive activities to invest in with their limited funds. there may be a small window of opportunity today to expand local parks and recreation supported whitewater paddling programs given the sport’s low facility and programming costs.

In the realm of public budgeting, parks are first cut and last restored. Today, most parks agencies are playing defense. parks departments have not stopped looking for ways to improve their communities. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind if you want take advantage of our sport’s growth potential through partnerships with local park agencies.

First, do your homework. Most states have adopted comprehensive parks and recreation master plans. Parks directors generally trust these plans. River recreation is a component of many of these planning documents. Before meeting with a parks department, pull your state’s comprehensive outdoor recreation plan and find out what it recommends for your community. For a list of state recreation plans, go to: www.narrp.org.

Second, paddling IS economic development. Communities are fighting harder than ever to prove to taxpayers that they are attracting private sector investment and talent. every community knows it has to be relevant to attract talent. Small towns and rural communities are desperate to attract and retain residents with college degrees and higher than average income. National data indicate that paddlesports enthusiasts have higher incomes and educational attainment levels than the general public, particularly in rural areas. (http://www.outdoorfoundation. org/pdf/ResearchPaddlesports.pdf).

Paddling is an exciting and affordable recreation activity that targets an important economic development demographic. The typical advertisement in an economic development trade publication can run $5-$10,000 each. A community can outfit itself with a paddling program for about the same amount of money.

thanks to the uniqueness of each river, this recreational amenity, unlike industrial parks and baseball complexes, cannot be duplicated next door. outdoor recreation is the rare venue where smaller communities can be instantly competitive with larger communities. (http://www.planning.org/cityparks/briefingpapers/ economicdevelopment.htm)

The moment a community has public water access points, some parking, a picnic table or two, and a well designed river recreation information system deployed via the web, it becomes a cooler place to live, work, and play. (http://www.planning.org/cityparks/ briefingpapers/economicdevelopment.htm)

Third, despite the recession, achievement still matters the world of public parks. Communities still compete like mad over the best new recreation amenity. Since the recession hit, the game has changed as public funds are rarely there to build a $1 million sports field complex. Achieving parks departments will expand their programs and facilities by focusing on the art of the possible during this extended recession. While large in-stream whitewater parks are beyond the fiscal capacity of many communities, $20K canoe launch sites are still doable in most places. Inexpensive river access facilities provide great ribbon cutting opportunities in lean budget years demonstrating civic accomplishment through improving a community’s quality of life.

Fourth, make your request personally to the parks leader(s) in your community. This is how traditional team sports groups approach park needs. then, do whatever it takes to get the parks leader on the water. Show them the river. time on the water is always time well spent. Park leaders know baseball and soccer fields intimately. Knowledge of paddlesports amenities is often lacking—your job is to bring them up to speed on our sport by taking them to where it happens.

When paddlers come to a community with boats strapped to their cars, it makes an immediate positive impression throughout town. paddling events brand a community as a cool place to be.

Every community will not be home to the next nantahala outdoor Center or become the next Salida, Co. But, all communities can experience some positive impact from paddlesports.

Whitewater is a recreational and economic asset. This is still true in the current recession. If paddlers work with their local parks departments to grow appreciation of the recreational asset of a river or stream, paddlesports can be in position mimic the success of baseball, soccer, etc, and become more systemically available for public use through enhanced facilities, events, and ongoing programs.

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