Closing the Loop

Your rail trail experience is about to get a little more interesting…

Currently, the Ghost Town Trail connects Blairsville to Ebensburg, showcasing some of the area’s most eye catching features, along with a little history of the once-booming mining towns it passes through. Each year, 80,000 bicyclists, hikers, runners, bird watchers, dog walkers, and down-right nature lovers visit this trail to enjoy the outdoors the way they see fit. This 32 mile trail is one of the area’s biggest attractions, and it’s about to get even bigger. For the first time in eastern United States rail trail history, the Ghost Town Trail is just 5.5 miles away from having a continuous loop. Think of it, an extension 16 miles of length, connected to one of the top 9 hiking trails in the United States. Can you say… refreshing?


The newest section of the C&I Trail shown on the right, which connects to the Ghost Town Trail on the left.

The idea of a loop of rail trail sounded surreal in 1994, but a group of individuals promoting the development of trails and greenways in Cambria and Indiana Counties, known as the C and I Trail Council, was determined to make it happen. This group played a pivotal role in railbanking the C and I railroad corridor. (Railbanking is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail) In the process, Northern Cambria Community Development Corporation (Norcam) stepped up to serve as a placeholder for the transition of the corridor property since the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority (CCCRA) was not yet created. A few years later, CCCRA came into existence and took ownership of the corridor in 1998.

The Ghost Town Trail and C and I trail corridor are owned and managed by CCCRA. New to the authority at the time, Executive Director Cliff Kitner took charge and soon opened the first 8 miles of this trail extension in 2017. Not long after, another 2 miles of the corridor was slated to be constructed. This current 2 mile project, what Ben ran on, is expected to be complete in the next coming months. Between the main 32 mile trail and soon to be complete 16 mile extension piece, trail users will be offered a 32 mile loop in total. That loop can be broken into smaller loops. And now, CCCRA is only 5.5 miles of funding and construction away from making this happen.

Find out how you can help support the efforts of this project by visiting the CCCRA website.

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How to replace a legend…

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In late 2013, I accepted the Director position here in East Goshen Township and met Mr. Frank Vattilano. He had been the Director here for twenty-five years and had what lovingly could be called a cult-like following. I shadowed him for two weeks and everywhere we went, it was nothing but bear hugs and tears. He had a verbose, story telling air about him, he would meander between topics with the community just as all our grandfathers do at holiday time. My first reaction…this is awesome. This community obviously loves parks and recreation and cares about the professional staff that administers it. That said, I cannot tell you how many people gave me a smile and said “you have big shoes to fill”…

Here are some of my recommendations for “filling their big shoes”…

1) Embrace their awesomeness – they were probably really good for the community! Don’t feel intimidated by your community’s affection for an outgoing Director…that same affection can come your way!

2) Be confident in your abilities – you were chosen to be the legend’s replacement for a reason…the selection committee chose YOU over plenty of other qualified people. Celebrate the legend for what he or she was, but know that you are going to kick butt over the next twenty-five years.

3) Know your park and rec talking points – whenever someone said the “shoes” thing to me…I acknowledged Frank was awesome, then immediately told them 2-3 things they could look forward to under the “Jason” regime. Control the conversation…

4) Tell people you aren’t blowing things up (even if you are). Over the prior 25 years, East Goshen Parks and Rec had motored along and the community loved it. When I started however, I had my “objective” glasses on and could see we needed some work. Individuals, groups and communities don’t like being overtly told they’ve been doing things the wrong way for years…be tactful and nuanced when discussing wholesale changes.

5) Take a deep breath – replacing a legend takes time. Find ways to engender confidence in your leadership through small easy victories, you will get there!

The Sneaker Blowout – The Power of a Positive Team amidst adversity

power-of-positive-teamUnless you are living under a shell, or not tuned into sports in America, you might have missed one of the most controversial conversations with sports commentary, Facebook, Twitter, and around the water cooler at work this past week. Nevertheless, this is a historical situation in the NCAA basketball over a team, coach, injury, sneaker, player and a lot of money.  This might be a good time to turn into CBS news for details if you missed the incident: Zion Williams Sneaker Incident

Most of you reading this, I would assume would have a position or stance on the issue, as many of us come from the sporting arena. Even if you didn’t, but work in the field of Parks and Recreation, I would hope you understand the importance of the skills learned from being on a team. The intangibles as learned on a sports team:

·         Mindset

·         Personal Drive

·         Mental Toughness

·         Communication – on and off the playing field

·         Motivated

·         Commitment

·         Resilience

·         Perseverance

·         Teamwork

·         Time Management

·         Respect for your teammates

·         Confidence

·         Coachability

·         Composure

This is just a few of the many intangibles learned on a team.

Intangibles can’t be bought; they are learned traits over years of practice, games, conditioning, and being on a team.  Power of a Positive Team is found not only thru the intangibles, but by what some call team chemistry, not to mention the fundamental skills of each player.   Does the one player whose shoe blew out, with hopefully a mere minor injury, affect this team? How will the coach and members of the team respond? What is the lesson for us in the historical event? How do you respond when one of your team goes down? How do you lead when your team is struggling?

The Power of a Positive Team written by Jon Gordon is one that the Mechanicsburg Girls Field Hockey team read over the course of the season this past fall.  This same book is one that can be utilized in any of your organizations to assist with what makes a truly great team.  I could not help to think of this book during this time of the sneaker.  This situation is far more than about a sneaker, money, the company that made the sneaker. It is about an institution.  It is about a program.  It is about a culture.  It is about a tradition.  It is about excellence.  It is about a team.  It is about a process bigger than anyone player, regardless of the money. Money can’t buy a team; money can’t buy the intangibles that this program has represented for decades. 

Does your organization work as a team, and value the intangibles?  Are you a real team? A real leader?

Many people think they are on a team, but a real team is what makes a group of people into a team. Consider the following:

Are your goals your team goals?

Are you committed to the team improving or just you individually?

Do you truly serve your team members?

Does your communication with the players build trust, commitment and team work?

Do you represent commitment to your team, as a top priority?

Do you show respect, love and respect to all team members?

Do you grow from your discussions, and disagreements?

Is everyone on the same bus? Heading in the same direction, with the same vision and mission?

Are you building strong leaders and building a bench?

Does your team work for the bigger cause in order to be truly great?

Every organization has the ability to be a team.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to mold and form a team.  Teams have their struggles, whether it be the blown out sneaker, or a blown out knee.  The WE is greater than ME, and one person can’t make a team but one person can break a team.  Three things you can control daily to make you a great teammate are your attitude, your effort and your actions, and none of these require any special ability or skill.  These require your attention to detail. 

“You and your team face a fork in the road each day.  You can settle for average and choose the path of mediocrity, or you can take the road less traveled and chase greatness. It’s a choice you make each day. Which path will your team take? “The Power of a Positive Team by Jon Gordon Page 146.

More information can be found at: https://www.slideshare.net/ShivShivakumar1/book-summary-the-power-of-a-positive-team

 

Conference Confidence!

Confidence can be described as a belief in one’s self and one’s ability to succeed.  Striking a healthy balance between too much and too little confidence can be challenging.  Too much and you come off cocky and stumble into unforeseen obstacles when you overestimate your own abilities or fail to complete projects on deadline because you underestimate the time and effort they require.  At the same time, having too little confidence can prevent you from taking risks and seizing opportunities.  Projecting just enough confidence helps you gain credibility, make a good lasting first impression, deal with pressure and meet personal and professional challenges head on. 

It’s that time of year again and emotions are high!  Some will get nervous as this may be your first conference while others get excited to see old friends.  Whatever your reaction, it’s Conference Time!  Conference Confidence is only for the veterans…WRONG!  The Annual Conference is truly what you make of it and I will tell you the sky is NOT the limit.  Where possibilities are endless and impossible is nothing!  Conference is your opportunity to network and learn from the best in the business.  I’ve provided suggestions to make the most of your experience:      

  1. Talk to as many people as possible.  Don’t just nod as you walk past people in the hallways. Sit and talk and get to know them and give them a chance to get to know you. 
  2. Go outside of your clique.  Leave your comfort zone. 
  3. Approach every table in the expo hall and get information from them all.
  4. Talk to the hotel/resort staff and ask questions about their industry or the facilities.
  5. Networking is fun but be careful not to have too much fun. 
  6. Don’t forget your business card, and don’t forget to pass it out. 

Every interaction at the Conference is an opportunity to build you, your programs and events. Plus you may make new friends.  Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas or share experiences and listen, listen, listen! 

As recreators, if our programs and events aren’t diverse, innovative, educational, and fun, our employers will find a person who will get the job done.  Come to Conference and get engaged and keep an open mind.  Gather the tools to fill your toolbox to make you, your programs and events better for your community. 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

Discovering the best in your board members

My Top 5 Tips

“It’s been a great ride!” is a comment I often make when reflecting upon my twenty-two years serving as director of the York County Rail Trail Authority. Collectively, working with the great volunteers who have served on the Authority, we have learned from our challenges and celebrated our successes. During times of “ups and downs,” I have also learned much about what motivates individuals to serve on boards and how to channel that motivation toward advancing the organization as a whole. Organization sustainability is very often dependent upon this balancing act between individual motivations and collective mission.

Looking back to the personal relationships that I have been fortunate enough to experience with the many volunteers who have served our organization over the years, I offer these five tips that may help those who similarly work with board members:

  1. Understand the type of board you are serving.

There are many different types of boards, each suited to serve specific organization or corporate structures. Common types of boards and their distinguishing characteristics can be found at www.policygovernanceconsulting.com. A director’s job description often varies according to the type of board leading the agency. The York County Rail Trail Authority is a working board, with individuals being recruited to serve based upon specific skills or talents that they can bring to the types of projects we do. Knowing this gives me the opportunity to find the gift in each member and draw upon that particular gift to advance our work. And I have found that volunteers love to be recognized for their special gift and acknowledged for how their gift leads to our success. As a director of a working board, I can deliver the message, “We could not do this without your _______.”

2. Seek to become actively involved in the board recruitment process.

As director, it is my responsibility to track the terms of each Authority member and prepare for future openings. Serving as a voting member on a committee that recruits, interviews, and recommends individuals for appointment to the board validates my role as director and ensures that the recruitment process centers on agency mission. As director, seek to establish written guidelines for recruitment. Then, implement those guidelines and become an active recruiter. During the initial stages of the recruitment process, openly discuss your recruitment efforts with all members of the recruitment team and encourage them to share their efforts.

3. Draw upon strengths and talents.

An effective director needs to know his/her board members – what they enjoy doing, what their time commitments are, how they prefer to communicate, and what they consider to be their strengths. The golden rule in working with any volunteer is to not ask them to do something that falls outside what they consider to be their strengths or what they enjoy doing. Asking for this type of “mix-matched” service is asking for a disgruntled volunteer. Don’t go there! If you cannot match a director with a particular task that needs doing, do it yourself. Each time that you are able to draw upon a talent, skill or interest of a particular board member, you will each share that special energy that comes from success.

4. Become a professional friend.

I highly recommend a balancing act of professionalism and friendship. The director is often the “face” of the organization, and therefore needs to demonstrate professionalism through exemplary appearance and behavior. On the other hand, being in the trail recreation business often encourages me to present myself as a friend of the great outdoors – occasionally wearing running shoes and fleece vest to work. Doing so, professionally, often leads to finding common ground with board members and supporters of your organization.  Nurturing these types of professional friendships can strengthen your agency and help to attract the type of future directors that understand and actually live your agency’s mission.

5. Respect…always respect.

This is the bottom line, and the one I will leave you with. As a director, we seek to gain the respect of board members, volunteers, donors, co-workers, peers, and the community in which we work. We gain this respect by showing respect. It is my hope that the tips I have offered above will help you to show respect in all you do to advance our parks, recreation, and trail work across Pennsylvania.

Gwenyth Loose, CPRP

Executive Director

York County Rail Trail Authority

A New Perspective on Civility

Civility means different things to different people. So, when we start dialogues in our workplaces about civility or the lack there of, plus the expectations of civility and what that looks like, we have to consider how each of us approaches the topic in a different way.

For example, I was taught that nice little girls are polite no matter what. I spent a large part of my younger years giving a social answer or self-deprecating answer, always folding under in the face of a louder or more strident opinion. Don’t rock the boat; never take a chance on offending someone. INPE0576

Let’s say someone else has the idea “It’s okay for me to always speak my mind, and I don’t care who I offend, it’s my right to say what I think.”

It is upbringing, experience, personality, emotional capacity, moral compass, and more that effects our actions and decisions about what civility is…

In workshops, when we start a dialogue about what Civility “is,” the answers vary widely but seem to follow the theme of how others behave or how others treat us.

Comments about Civility include:

·  I hate when people let the door slam on you. People need to look behind them and hold the door for other people.

·  I want someone to respect that I have different beliefs, and not make comments about my choices.

·  I want him to agree to disagree, and try to maintain politeness with me in future interactions, and I will do the same.

·  When people interrupt me, especially in meetings, its rude and I’d like people to be aware of that and try not to interrupt.

·  I think we should all try to be kinder, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

The phrasing is interesting sometimes, in that people often talk about what others should do: “People should slow down and stop tailgating” or “people should stop talking so loudly on their cell phones…”

So, let’s try a different exercise. How are YOU going to be more civil? Because we only control ourselves, right? But we have the power to influence others.

So, let’s try this:

·  Today, I am going to be kind to people, even something small like a smile.

·  I’m going to be aware of the challenges others face and try to put myself in their shoes.

·  I’m going to say hello to everyone I pass on the street, no matter who it is.

·  I’m going to be aware of the mess I leave in the staff kitchen and work harder to clear it up.

·  I’m going to get to know Tom better, since he and I do not see eye to eye, so that we have a more common ground to operate from at work.

Now, THESE have a little more substance to them, they are action based, and they start with “me.” I can influence others, inspire others, affect others, but only control myself.

The next step of civility is to see how long it lasts. It’s human nature that I intend to smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the hallway at the office, until someone is mean to me and then — forget it! People are mean to me so I’m not going to be nice to them… it’s a lot harder to maintain the civility in the face of rudeness, thoughtlessness, and aggressive behavior.

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Take that to a global scale, we see it play out in conflicts all over the country and the world.

So, maybe we can all take a few minutes to think about how we feel about civility. Is it the way I want or expect others to treat me? Is it the way I intend to treat others? And how do we – all of us – sustain it, no matter how another person behaves?

There is no magic answer and it’s not easy, but within our workplaces, it is important that we start conversations about civility, about mutual respect for all people (everyone gets the same hello as the CEO), and how we want our workplaces to feel. The actions then are not pointing fingers at others, but our own ownership for being part of the solution.

Momma I Made It!!!

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Montana (L) with fellow speaker Heather Mitts

I am a very positive person… a “3/4” full kind of guy, believing that what I do matters. That working weird hours away from my family is worth it, that I make a lasting difference in my community. However, just about every single day, I sit at my desk, and need some sort of pep talk…and I usually go back to this story.

A couple of years ago, East Goshen Parks and Rec hosted an event called “Next Up”, a night of female only speakers for a teenage female audience…a night of empowerment. It was well attended, the teenage participants were awesome, engaged and loved hearing stories from our State Representative Carolyn Comitta and U.S. Gold Medalist Heather Mitts (soccer).

Our opening speaker was Montana Leaks, an Allentown native (like myself), who was a senior at West Chester University, and its Student Body President. I met her in May before the event, signed her up, and then didn’t give it another thought until the event approached.

She emailed me about two weeks before the Next Up event, and asked if her mother could come. “Of course!” was my response…but I couldn’t help notice further down in the email stream a subject line of “Momma I Made It!”

Immediately following our meeting in May, she emailed her family with “Momma I Made It!” in the subject line. Her email then went on to speak of sharing a stage with a State Representative and U.S. Olympian…you could almost see her chest swell with pride in the email, it was awesome!

I take encouragement in knowing that my department played a significant role in her realizing her efforts towards excellence had paid off. She was no longer working towards being accomplished, she knew that she was accomplished. Montana now believed in her own personal efficacy…powerful stuff!  She is now in graduate school, and I am sure doing splendidly well. I hope all of us as people have had that moment, that wonderful moment of personal clarity where we instantaneously know that we belong, that its our moment, that we made it!