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Giving thanks for our city parks

It’s the busiest travel day of the year as I write this, and I’m looking out from my window at the Trust for Public Land offices in Boston over the historic Granary Burying Ground and its amazing canopy of trees which is a historic park and a very popular tourist destination in its own right. I can see people walking along the paths, looking for final resting places of John Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere.  At some point, we’ll hear tour guides in colonial dress talking about the site and its place in history.  It’s great to have a window seat overlooking a city park, given my work at the Trust for Public Land.

acadia-steps

2017 has been filled with highs and lows, but I’m thankful for my job – researching trends, best practices and the many ways that park agencies continue to care for our urban park systems. Since late September, we have been conducting our annual city parks survey which provides the data for creation of our two big annual “publications” – City Park Facts – an almanac of the parks systems of the 100 largest U.S. cities as well as the ParkScore Index , a ranking of the park systems of those same 100 largest U.S. cities.

For the first time this year, we’re surveying several hundred non-profit park foundations and conservancies that work hand in hand with the city, county, state and federal agencies that operate, maintain and program our 2 million acres of parks in our 100 largest cities. For the nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population that lives in those cities, parks are both natural refuges as well as playgrounds for 60 million people who live in those 100 largest cities, as well as millions more in the communities that surround them.

It takes a lot of work to keep our parks and public spaces in good working order. And, a string of natural disasters have challenged our parks agencies in a number of communities for sure. Severe wind, rain and flooding have knocked parks, trails and indoor facilities out of commission for weeks and months.  Park agency employees have lost cars, their homes, and personal possessions. Tons of debris and silt have clogged waterways and linear parks with flooding. National parks, preserves and forests in Florida and Puerto Rico have been severely damaged. And then, there is the cycle of drought and flood that parts of the U.S. experience with seasonal regularity, often resulting in the loss of homes, loved ones and beloved public spaces.

That said, we as a country continue to rise to the challenge and look for ways to donate, volunteer and vote for our parks. As Adrian Benepe, SVP at the Trust for Public Land noted in a recent Huff Post piece, voters in 26 communities approved $1.5 B in bonds for parks and conservation in November elections. In both Houston and south Florida, people contributed to funds to help park staff who lost their homes and possessions with donations – over $95,000 raised in Houston and thousands raised for National Park Service staff in south Florida and the keys.

In addition, many Americans contribute their time (16.4 million hours donated to the 100 largest U.S. city parks systems in 2016 alone), and donate funds to both public and non-profit parks agencies. Here’s two things you can do for your own parks over the next week.

First, while the day after Thanksgiving is usually known as Black Friday (when the holiday shopping season begins officially) is also known as #OptOutside day, begun by REI three years ago when they decided to close all of their stores and give their employees a day off. I am planning on going on a hike, myself, but it can be any activity and if the weather is cooperating where you live, you should too!  Bring your family, friends, dogs. Take photos. Tell others. (My helpful tip – bring a trash bag and pick up any trash or recycleables that you find along the way.)

The second day is next Tuesday, November 28, as known as #GivingTuesday. Started by the 92nd Street YMCA in NYC, it is a global day of giving, with many parks and environmental non-profit organizations participating.  Please consider a donation to The Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance (the two parks non-profits that bring you this blog) as well as the many great parks foundations and conservancies doing work in our cities and communities across the US. They need your help more than ever.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your parks!

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The author (Charlie) and one of his hiking partners (foster dog Remy)

Tulsa, Oklahoma and the case for supporting disc golf in public parks

We’re pleased to publish this guest post by Josh Woods on Disc Golf and Tulsa. Tulsa currently has the most disc golf course per 100,000 according to the Trust for Public Land’s annual City Park Facts. Do you have research on city parks, park amenities or city park trends that you’d like to share, please write us at ccpe@tpl.org.

By Josh Woods

Author bio: Josh Woods is an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University and the creator of Parked: A Disc Golf Think Tank

In August 2005, a young Devan Owens embarked on an unlikely journey. He left his home near Tulsa, Oklahoma and traveled nearly a thousand miles to Flagstaff, Arizona for the Amateur Disc Golf World Championships. Owens was sixteen years old, a precocious lefthanded thrower with a great sidearm and big dreams.

Devan Owens Putt by Frisbeenet

Devan Owens (from frisbeenet)

With only one year of disc golf experience, he won the tournament in his age division and became an amateur world champion. In the next years, Owens dedicated himself to disc golf, developed into a successful touring professional, attracted sponsorships, took on leadership roles in the disc golf community at the local and state levels, and collected 39 tournament wins by spring 2017.

Although this may seem like an obscure sports story, anyone who cares about the future of public parks should take notice. There is an important, symbiotic relationship between disc golfers and public parks. On one hand, disc golfers like Owens depend greatly on the availability of public urban land and the support of parks and recreation departments. On the other hand, city parks benefit from local disc golfers who donate their time, labor and money to the construction and maintenance of public disc golf courses.

In a recent interview, when asked about the origin of his disc golf success, Owens acknowledged the roles of public parks and his disc golf community in Tulsa. “There’s lots going on in the Tulsa disc golf scene,” he said. “We have a couple clubs running tournaments and leagues all year around. You can play organized disc golf almost every day of the week.”

Owens identified the Tulsa Disc Sports Association (TDSA) as the main organizer in the area. He spoke highly of its leaders, credited the TDSA for developing strong relationships with Tulsa city officials, and detailed the TDSA’s large donations of money and labor for the construction and maintenance of area disc golf courses.

“This is going to blow your mind,” he said. “Almost all the disc golf courses in Tulsa were paid for and installed by the TDSA. The association has a long history. Since the 1980s, the generations have come through, running leagues, collecting small fees, organizing fundraisers, setting up work days and trash pickups. The courses are in the ground today because disc golfers of the past gave their time, money and sweat.”

Disc golf appears to be more popular in Tulsa than in any other major city in the country. The Tulsa Disc Golf Facebook group has more than 3,000 members. According to a study based on a random sample of 100 disc golf groups on Facebook, the mean group size is 174 members. Very few disc golf communities in the nation can rival the social media presence of Tulsa disc golf.

According to the 2017 City Park Facts Report, released last month, Tulsa is first in the country in public disc golf courses per capita.[1] As shown in Table 1, the TDSA has outbuilt the vibrant communities in Charlotte, Orlando and Kansas City. Part of this success should be attributed to the availability of public park land. Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, Tulsa ranks twenty-fourth based on the total number of parks, and tenth in park acres per 1,000 residents.

 

Table 1: Top Ten Cities Based on Public Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents[2]

City Population Public Park Spending per Resident (Adjusted) Total Disc Golf Courses Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents
Tulsa  411,880 $60 7 1.7
Durham  257,245 $69 4 1.6
Lexington  312,390 $85 4 1.3
Charlotte  862,069 $43 14 1.3
Orlando  272,010 $119 3 1.1
Fort Wayne  261,136 $102 3 1.1
Cincinnati  304,833 $244 3 1.0
Kansas City  479,367 $128 5 1.0
Anchorage  305,439 $92 3 1.0
Richmond  222,071 $77 2 0.9

While the green space is there, the public funding is not. Tulsa ranks seventy-fourth in spending on public parks, per the 2017 City Park Facts Report. Out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 73 spend more money per resident on public parks than Tulsa. It appears that the TDSA builds disc golf courses “the old-fashioned way … they earn it.” Charlotte, North Carolina also has a notably low level of public funding and a high number of disc courses per 100,000 residents.

Most of Tulsa’s seven public courses have concrete tee pads and appear to be well maintained. Located in Mohawk Park, the Black Hawk, a wooded course with tight, yet reasonable fairways, plenty of distance, and at least three water holes, should be on every disc golfer’s bucket list. There’s a second course, the Red Hawk, within the same complex, making it a desirable destination for disc golfers of all skill levels.

“The Black Hawk is the most challenging course in the area,” Owens said. “It would definitely eat up the beginner, but the Red Hawk has a front nine that’s fairly short and open. One thing I like about this place is the Tulsa Zoo in Mohawk Park. It’s cool to be playing disc golf and hear the monkeys and elephants and gorillas going off.”

Tulsa disc golfers are generous supporters of the broader community. Led by the TDSA, Tulsa’s Ice Bowl, a nationwide disc golf charity event played in the dead of winter, has broken records for attendance, and donated tens of thousands of dollars to the community food back. More than 240 people took part in the 2016 Tulsa Ice Bowl.

PDGA Members

When pressed to identify the secret of Tulsa’s success, Owens said, “You know, the only thing I can think of is the people. When they get involved with the TDSA, they realize they’re part of it. They help put in a disc golf course. They help move a basket, or install a new tee pad, or show up for a long workday, and when they do, they become attached to the course forever … that’s the secret sauce.”

The “secret sauce” of Tulsa disc golf exemplifies the spirit of the public land movement in the United States. The generous volunteerism of disc golf communities across the country has led to new disc golf courses in thousands of public parks across the country. The number of public disc golf courses far exceeds the number of publicly owned ball golf courses. And while the popularity of ball golf continues to decline, disc golf is on the rise.

In the 1980s, there were about twenty-five new disc golf courses built each year; by the 1990s, roughly 100 courses were established annually, and between 2007 and 2010, the annual growth rate reached 200 each year.[3] There are now 5,467 disc golf courses in the U.S., and roughly 90 percent of these courses are in public parks.[4]

Other indicators are showing the same explosive growth trend. As shown in the figure below, over a six-year period, between 2006 and 2012, there was a fixed, year-to-year increase in the number of active members of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) of about eight percent. Then, in 2013, the number of members jumped by 13 percent, followed by a 19 percent increase in 2014, a 25 percent gain in 2015, and a 17 percent uptick in 2016, when the total number of members stood at 35,662 worldwide, and 30,454 in the United States.[5]

[1] The 2017 City Parks Facts Report is published by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. The data in this report are generated through “a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with the Center to submit their data.” The information on disc golf course locations may differ from the PDGA’s figures. The data on disc golf courses by city only include those courses located in public parks within the given municipality, not the metropolitan region. A “public park” refers to publicly owned and operated parks within the city limits.

[2] See the 2017 City Park Facts Report.

[3] Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[4] For the course count, see the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf; for the public course estimate, see Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[5] See the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf.

The Importance of volunteers in parks, continued.

By Charlie McCabe

Last week, as part of our press release for the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, we touted a number of examples covering the growing role and importance of volunteers in parks in the 100 largest US city park systems. Given that we’re nearing the end of National Volunteer Week (Apr 23-29), we wanted to add another post in what will be an ongoing series on volunteers working in parks.

IMG_7411

Volunteers planning bulbs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston

Today, we’ll take a quick look at how park conservancies are working with volunteers. As part of a master’s thesis in 2016, I looked at what were the best practices of organizing and managing a volunteer program. I studied nine different parks conservancies in Austin, Boston, Brooklyn and Houston. I found a number of common practices and methods used, which we’ll cover in a future set of posts.  But, like our findings on the impact of volunteer in our 100 largest US cities, I found substantial impact for these nine park conservancies.

First, it’s very important to stress that all of these organizations work in partnership with their local park agencies to achieve mutual goals. As Doreen Stoller, Executive Director of the Hermann Park Conservancy noted in our 2015 publication, Public Parks/Private Money: “the City of Houston has allowed Hermann Park Conservancy to perform many duties on its behalf. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that our work is ‘on its behalf.’”

So, what’s the impact?  I looked at five years worth of data from each of the park conservancies.  The results are impressive.

  • In 2012, 12,250 volunteers donated 44,668 hours worth $1.04M or 21.47 FTEs
  • in 2013, 16,836 volunteers donated 49,767 hours worth $1.21M or 23.9 FTEs
  • In 2014, 15,426 volunteers donated 53,688 hours worth $1.34M or 25.81 FTEs
  • In 2015, 16,098 volunteers donated 59,461 hours worth $1.55M or 28.58 FTEs
  • In 2016, 18,727 volunteers donated 67,541 hours worth $1.75M or 32.47 FTEs

Overall, during the five year period, 79,337 volunteers donated 275,125 hours worth $6.9M.

(The value of hours is calculated using data collected by Independent Sector, a non-profit that calculates the annual hourly value of donated labor by state. FTE stands for full-time equivalent or one person working fulltime, calculated as 2,080 hours a year or 40 hours per week times 52 weeks in a year.)

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Tree mulching demonstration at the start of volunteer workday, Pease Park, Austin.

In future posts, we’ll get into the details of what tasks volunteers tackle, how these non-profits organize and manage their volunteer programs, how they work with park agency and park conservancy staff and a host of other topics, including the origin of volunteers in our parks.

Further, one of our efforts in the coming year at the Center for City Park Excellence will be looking at park conservancies and their continued impacts alongside parks agencies in the 100 largest cities, we working to get a more complete picture of what all non-profits working in parks contribute in terms of funds, volunteer hours and “on the ground” work.

Note: The nine park conservancies studied in my thesis were: the Austin Parks Foundation, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Hill Country Conservancy (for the Violet Crown Trail, specifically) the Pease Park Conservancy, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, and the Trail Foundation.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.

 

City Park Facts: Volunteering in Parks

APF-Trails-mccabe

Volunteers on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin, TX 2011

In our press release announcing the 2017 edition of City park facts, we focused on the role and the importance of volunteers working in park systems in our 100 largest US cities. We have not reported this information in prior years, but we’ve included it in the downloadable spreadsheets at www.tpl.org/cityparkfacts/  We also wanted to expand upon the data a bit this blog post.

Volunteers in parks and recreation perform a wide of variety of roles, from coaches, referees and volunteer groundkeepers to helping plant, weed, mulch and water.  Volunteers work alongside park staff as individuals and groups.

So, here are theshighlights of the impact that volunteers make in our park systems by highlighting the results in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016:

Volunteer hours have risen from 9.8M in 2008 to 16.4M in 2016.  (It was 11.2M in 2010 and 15.5M in 2013.)

The value of those hours has risen from $206M in 2008 to $411M in 2016.  The value is calculated using data from Independent Sector, which calculuates the value of an hour of volunteer time by state every year.  (It was $250M in 2010 and $282M in 2013.)

Assuming that a full-time parks staffer worked 2,080 hours a year (40 hours times 52 weeks), volunteer hours are equal to an additional 4,733 full-time positions in 2008, growing to 7,895 positions in 2016. (It was 5,391 positions in 2010 and 7,440 positions in 2013.)

Looking at the value of volunteer hours as a percentage of the operational budget for parks in the 100 largest US cities, it was 4.1 percent in 2008, growing to 5.8 percent in 2016.

City Park Facts is a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with us to submit their data and we appreciate their continued help and involvement. The staff of the Center for City Park Excellence works to present this information in a thorough yet easy-to-use format, and your feedback is important for future editions. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

City Park Facts: The largest city parks

Many people often think of one of the most famous city parks, Central Park in New York City, as one the biggest. Nope.  Not even in the top 20 largest city parks.

The biggest city park in the 100 largest cities in the US is McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, weighing in at 30,500 acres.

mcdowell-sonoran-photo

Photo by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

Below is a list of the top 18 city parks, along with links to their websites for additional information. (Note: if a park extends beyond the boundary of the city, only the acreage within the city is noted here.)

  1. McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale: 30,500 acres. [friends group: McDowell Sonoran Conservancy]
  2. South Mountain Preserve, Phoenix: 16,306 acres.
  3. Sonoran Preserve, Phoenix: 9,487 acres.
  4. Cullen Park, Houston: 9,270 acres.
  5. Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego: 6,932 acres.
  6. Jefferson Memorial Forest, Louisville: 6,218 acres.
  7. Lake Stanley Draper, Oklahoma City: 6,190 acres.
  8. Forest Park, Portland, Or: 5,172 acres. [friends group: Forest Park Forever]
  9. Lake Houston Wilderness Park, Houston: 4,787 acres.
  10. Shooting Range Park, Albuquerque: 4,596 acres.
  11. Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis: 4,284 acres. [friends group: Eagle Creek Park Foundation]
  12. Griffith Park, Los Angeles: 4,282 acres.
  13. Loblolly Mitigation Preserve, Jacksonville: 4,201 acres.
  14. Mission Bay Park, San Diego: 4,108 acres.
  15. Far North Bicentennial Park, Anchorage: 3,924 acres. [friends group: Anchorage Park Foundation]
  16. Piestewa Park, Phoenix: 3,766 acres.
  17. Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, Fort Worth: 3,630 acres.
  18. Rio Grande Valley State Park, Albuquerque: 3,186 acres.

City Parks Facts 2017 will be released on April 19, 2017 at www.tpl.org.

City Park Facts is a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with us to submit their data and we appreciate your continued help and involvment. The staff of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land works to present this information in a thorough yet easy-to-use format, and your feedback is important for future editions. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

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