Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day is July 19

PRPS_Park&Recreation_ProfessionalsDayIt’s a safe bet we can all agree on the following. That when:

•   you visit a park, it is clean, safe, and ready to use.
•   your family goes swimming, the lifeguards are well-trained and the water quality is optimal.
•   your grandchild visits the playground, you know it is maintained to all safety standards.
•   your loved one with a disability wants to camp, swim, paddle or fish, all facilities are well-marked, well-maintained and easily accessible.
•   you attend a public festival, all safety and security systems are capable and functioning.
•   your elderly parents look for enriching and companionable activities, they can always find them.
•   your children attend day camp, you are certain of their safe and appropriate physical, cognitive and social development.
•   you visit urban woodlands, gardens and greenspaces, the attractive assets are well-cared for and healthy.
•   your teens participate in youth sports, they thrive in the coaching, playing, and growing.
•   you want to bike to the park, grocery store, library or work, you are able to make those connections, free from all hazards.

I believe we can agree that these are all reasonable expectations of our park and recreation facilities and programs. And since they are, it is fitting to credit the park and recreation professionals who provide them.

The third Friday in July is Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day. It honors the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide the high quality programs and facilities we desire and expect in our parks and public spaces.

On July 19, we invite all Pennsylvanians to visit a park and enjoy its facilities and services in a tribute to all our park and recreation providers. And just perhaps they’ll mention a little thanks to the programmer, manager, maintainer, landscaper, facilitator, lifeguard, coach, event organizer or caretaker.

If you have a public event on or near Friday, July 19, we encourage you to make it an official Park and Recreation Professionals Day celebration, with special promotions and publicity. Invite your elected officials and allow them to eye-witness and publicly acknowledge your value to the community at large. Download the resources of the promotional toolkit here to assist in your local preparations. 

Park and Recreation Professionals Day is celebrated during National Park and Recreation Month, and is a function of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.

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Creating the “New Normal” In Parks Management

“Where are all of the dandelions?” I was searching for that bright yellow flower while visiting one of our parks and could not find it.  To be clear, I know that a dandelion is a non-native plant, but it was the dandelion, or lack thereof, that alerted me to the fact that our parks could be supporting more.

At their core, parks should exist to support the recreational, physical, mental and emotional needs of us.  They should also exist to provide the basic necessities for nature to survive and thrive.  In most suburban parks, we’ve failed miserably.  Our current park maintenance practices revolve around preserving a grass monoculture that requires too much time and resources – both of which we never have enough of.

There is a place in our industry for the manicured lawn – most of which is sports-related.  In hindsight, rather than designing a few pollinator gardens around an athletic field, we should have been designing the athletic fields around fields of native plants and trees.  If your community is like ours, most of your parks are already constructed without the luxury of ever getting a mulligan on that design.  What if you could change the look and functionality of your parks and reduce maintenance hours while establishing a “new normal” in parks management?

The “new normal” is different for every community, but the visual expectation of what a park should look like is what we sought to alter.  For us, it had to start with being okay with imperfect lawns and giving nature a presence where it hadn’t existed before.

How can you create the “new normal” in your parks?

  • Find the Low Hanging Fruit:  Our very first step was raising our mower decks and mowing less during the summer.  Following that, we started questioning why a location is even mowed.  Mowing is 40% of what we do annually.  If we were going to find time to work on our maintenance backlog, mowing was where those hours would come from.  Conveniently, nature also benefits from this approach.
  • Educate, Retrain & Engage Staff: Gradually introduce topics like no-mow areas, native plants and green infrastructure.  Agree upon new maintenance practices and standards. Ask staff, at all levels, where they think change could occur. 
  • Keep the Public Informed: Educate the public on the why, where and how of what you are doing.  Not everyone will agree with the vision, but remaining transparent and listening will build confidence.  Celebrate your successes on your various marketing platforms.
  • Maintain a Presence: “Low Maintenance” doesn’t mean “No Maintenance”.  This will be a different type of maintenance than what your residents are accustomed to so having a presence is important.  For example, mowing the edges of no-mow areas indicate that a space is still looked after.
  • Trust the Process – With a good plan in place and a little bit of time, your agency will begin seeing tangible benefits like more time to focus on other projects and reduced fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on equipment.  These are two easily measured meters of success. Another benefit, you’ll see a lot more nature also using your parks.

The “new normal” needs to start somewhere – community parks sound like a great place to me.   

Recreation and Parks’ Internet of Things

How parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

Love ParkHow parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

In the spirit of bringing holistic thinking and collaborative services to solving people problems, this simple list depicts how park and recreation systems contribute to improving personal and community living. By no means is it comprehensive, so please add your suggestions to expand this view!

Health & Wellness
Healthcare Costs
Healthcare Delivery
Medical Recovery & Immune Benefits
Connection to Nature for Human Health
Alleviation of Stress, Depression & AD disorders
Physical Activity & Healthy Lifestyles
Physical, Mental, Emotional Therapy
Mitigate Obesity and Chronic Diseases
Youth & Family Development
Nutrition, Healthy Food Production & Choices
Preventative Treatment for Criminal & Risky Behaviors
Prevention & Response for Opioids & Drug Abuse
Improved Functioning of People with Special Needs
Evidence-based Health Improvement Programs
Tobacco Bans in Public Spaces

Environmental Sustainability
Wildlife Habitat Preservation
Carbon Sequestration
Water Quality & Supply
Wetlands Protection & Riparian Buffers
Energy Costs & Conservation
Pollution Reduction
Air Quality
Connections to Nature
Brownfields Restoration
Climate Change
Preservation & Conservation
Heat Island Reduction
Natural Resource Management
Stormwater Management
Conservation Best Practices

Social Equity
Community & Neighborhood Engagement
Access to Economic and Socio-cultural Goods
Diversity & Inclusion
Cross-cultural Respect & Interaction
Children & Youth Services
Child Nutrition & Food Distribution
Equal Access to Parks & Recreation Services
Underserved Populations
Health Disparities
Neighborhood Green Spaces
Social Justice & Public Administration
Workforce Development

Economic Stimulation
Destination Tourism
Placemaking & Events
Concessions & Vendors
Connective Trails, Water Trails
Recreational and Cultural Attractions
Business Development & Attraction
Employment & Workforce Development
Recreation & Sports Equipment Sales
Property Values
Zoning & Enterprise Districts
Outdoor Recreation Industry
Growth of the Sharing Economy

Infrastructure & Resiliency
Multimodal transportation
Urban Planning
Traffic Mitigation
Caretaking & Maintenance
Trail Access & Connectivity
Stormwater Management
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness
“Clean, Safe & Ready-to-Use”
Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation
Landscape Architectural Design
Facilities & Resource Management
Technologies & Work Automation
Big Data & Anticipatory Intelligence

People Development
Community Leadership
Teambuilding and Collaborations
Personal Productivity & Creativity
Student Achievement & Engagement
Risk Resilience
Creative Play
Physical, Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development
Experiential & Lifelong Learning

Community Livability
Safety & Crime Mitigation
Historical and Cultural Preservation
Community Engagement
Forums for Public Art, Entertainment & Expression
Children & Youth Services
Safeguard Park Visitors and Recreationists
Public Spaces & Green Infrastructure
Urban Blight Mitigation
Connective Trails
Public-Private Partnerships
Business Development & Attraction
Research, Public Education & Advocacy

Recreation & Leisure
Aquatics & Athletics
Parks and Park Amenities
Arenas and Event Venues
Concessions and Supplies
Healthy Competition
Nature & Environmental Centers
Hunting & Fishing
Active & Passive Leisure Activities
Cultural & Historical Interpretation
Public Assets & Spaces
Community Gardens & Special Use Spaces
Integrated Services across Disciplines & Jurisdictions
Positive Youth, Family & Adult Development
Quality & Enrichment of Life

Is Your House in Order?

How many of you can identify20181102_141353_resized.jpg with this scenario?

You have staff scheduled to drag your ball field for an important softball tournament and the infield machine won’t start. They determine it is a safety switch that needs adjusted. They go to your trusty shop toolbox and look for the 9/16ths socket w/ 1/2” drive with the extension and the universal to reach the adjustment to make the adjustment. But when they look for it, they can only find a 9/16th socket in the 3/4” drive. Ok, so they have to use a tool bigger than they need, no big deal right? Only to realize they don’t have a universal attachment for a 3/4” drive to help reach the bolt to adjust the safety switch to get the infield drag operational!

The universal joint was used yesterday to help make a repair to the lift station and was dropped down into the vault. So they decide with the tools they have to remove the seat, seat frame, and two other hose clamps to be able to access the bolt that is now becoming the needle in the proverbial haystack. As the supervisor, you realize the field still hasn’t been dragged and find maintenance staff fully involved in a mechanical operation that has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes the smallest things can trip up your operations and give you pause. Getting to the root of the problem may be right under your nose, or feet as it were. Not only may your toolbox not have all the correct tools you need but they may be so scattered it takes way too much time to find them or account for them.

Back away from the toolbox and look at your maintenance facility. If you have tools on the floor, power tools laying on your workbench, rakes, and shovels leaning in the corner waiting for someone to step on them and re-create a three stooges short, you may have found the problem. Organizing you maintenance facility can take many hours and some creative thinking of how to store and track your tools & equipment.

However, the time invested in creating a well-organized and maintained maintenance facility over the long run can make your crews more productive and efficient than even they thought possible. Space seems to often be an obstacle. You may have opportunities to use the walls to hang equipment to free up floor space. Rafters are also an opportunity for storage. If you simply do not have any more space, it may be worth looking at how the space is being utilized. A re-organization can also produce better results. Heated vs cold storage should also be considered. An outdoor roof or simple lean-to may be just the ticket for those items that can safely be stored outside.

One of my favorite things to do is visit other facilities and not just park facilities to see how others organize their maintenance facilities. Schools, Ballparks, Commercial Landscapers, Cities, Counties, State Facilities, Commercial Facilities. Chances are you know many of these folks and many would be willing to have you visit. Take pictures and ask questions, there’s a good chance some of the best ideas they have were either from their own staff or from other facility operators. And don’t forget to put that 9/16ths socket back where you found it!


From Toronto With Love: lessons learned from visiting Toronto’s recreation and community centers

Community involvement in rec centers can flourish, if given the proper attention, time and resources.

Those of us who are concerned with better resident engagement with our neighborhood community recreation centers could learn plenty by visiting Toronto, as I recently have.

As a member of an exploration group participating in Civic Commons Learning Journey: Toronto, I was afforded a first-hand look at the operations of many of Toronto’s public libraries, community housing units – and perhaps most important, its public spaces and community recreation centers.

Our tour took us to all points in Toronto – from its more affluent neighborhoods to its more hard-scrabble, working class areas. What stood out during each stop was that community members and neighbors, by and large, took sincere ownership of their parks and centers. Centers were nearly blight-free, and most parks were fulfilling the promise of being bustling centers of communal activity.

When I asked a center director why the community takes to the center the way it does, I was told that many of the neighbors are immigrants, and have embraced the center not only for its recreational properties, but for the essential programming, including ESL classes and other crucial immigrant services. Most of the services are provided for free, and those participating in the various programs usually donate their own time, effort and other resources to support their center.

The idea that we can turn our local centers into more of a one-stop hub where community members can receive an assortment of services should be a priority as the city embarks on the Rebuild Initiative. 

Another story of communal support unfolded when our group visited Regent Park, a wholly redeveloped neighborhood in downtown Toronto. Developers and community leaders there have gone through great lengths to blur the distinction between the more well off residents and working-class ones. There, a new community center arts bank supports the community’s burgeoning creative arts industry, literally providing an avenue through which Regent Park artists can be properly compensated for their talents.

I believe that this sort of neighborhood involvement can flourish locally, if given the proper attention, time and resources.

For example, during our visit to Dufferin Grove Park in West Toronto, we witnessed public usages that, if scaled properly, could work locally.

Most parks that our group visited housed reconfigured metal shipping containers that housed “Park Cafes.” These cafes sit on recreation center grounds, and are open during the hours the park is open, and provide prepared and cooked foods and snacks to all those who use the park. 

One such cafe sits inside Thorncliffe Park and is operated by the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee. All of these cafes employ members of the community, and a portion of the proceeds are folded back into the operations of the park.

The implementation of more diverse programming could lead to community engagement while also creating revenue streams for our recreations centers. It’s worth a try. 

Dufferin Grove Park 11
“The Cob,” an open-air cafe situated in the heart of Dufferin Grove Park.

Dufferin Grove Park 9
The play area at Dufferin Grove Park. Note this is mid-morning activity.

Scadding Court Community Centre 10
The skateboard creation program at Scadding Court Community Centre. There, local youth earn certificates in graphic design and screen printing, as they create one-of-a-kind skateboards, which they in turn sell to the local community.

Dog Blog


Yes, this is my first “dog blog” and it can be said, “It’s a dog’s life.” The truth of the matter is for many dog owners, our dogs are much more than pets. We consider them part of our family!

With pet ownership on the rise in the United States, several communities are advertising themselves as “pet-friendly” to help attract new buyers and renters. And municipal park & recreation departments have been leading the pack for many years in dog park development.

Whether you currently have a dog park, looking to improve your dog park or are simply looking for some tips for planning and building a dog park, I hope you find a few dogs gone good tips here you can use.

Location, location, location…. after all, it is real estate we’re talking about. Ideally, you want your dog park to be situated to the side or at the back of a community if possible. Typically a developer will take all prime land for building, but keep in mind a dog park doesn’t necessarily need to be open and flat! A sloping or parcel that has well-established trees can be both interesting and make for good terrain for dogs to roam and play.

Fencing includes two basic structures…

  1. Perimeter fencing which should be a minimum of 5’ high so larger dogs won’t easily jump out. and
  2. a double gate entry to give owners and dog a chance to acclimate and leash or unleash before entering or exiting the main area. Gate placement in corners is not advised as it may create a bottleneck for traffic and possibly enable an onrushing dog to “corner” the new dog entering creating a situation that may lead to a dog becoming aggressive. A great majority of our dog park surfaces are grass, largely due to the low expense to install/establish.

However, contrary to popular belief, grass should be avoided if possible for surfaces for dogs. As many are already experiencing, the constant running, digging and romping of dogs chew up the turf quickly and what is left is a dirty and sometimes muddy mess.

Additionally dog urine has a high amount of nitrogen which can also kill the grass. Selecting an alternative material can often save maintenance costs in the long run. Materials such as crushed granite ranging from 1/4” too sandy consistency is an excellent resource and are very low maintenance. There are also specially designed artificial turfs for dog parks. The initial cost may be high but the long-term maintenance and ease of managing the surface may well be worth the cost.

Having two sections, one for large dogs and one for small dogs is a must. Any veterinarian or dog trainer will confirm this immediately and for good reasons, not the least of which is controlling behavior between competing sizes of dogs.

Clearly displaying and enforcing the rules of your dog park is the first line of defense and operation for the community. A word on water supply, avoid large buckets or baby pools for water as they can create a breeding ground for mosquitoes and or disease. A high/low water fountain is ideal, both for owners and their furry friends. Lots of dogs mean lots of poop. Something you can absolutely count on. A comprehensive pet waste management plan is essential and include several pet waste bag dispensers and keep them filled.

Finally, benches, shade, and places for the owners to congregate is also essential. After all, this is as much a social event for the dogs as it is for the community. What better way to meet a new neighbor than to share pet stories and experiences. Just be sure space is open for owners to keep an eye on their dogs and so they can easily access their pet and visa versa!

Be the master of your sportsfields!

As the title may suggest, being the master of your sports fields can be a daunting task, particularly if they are constantly and heavily used. Couple that with a limited budget and it may seem impossible! Don’t panic.

WhilIMG_3539e budget difficulties may seem endless, in the long run, they more than likely are not. Meanwhile, now is the time to prioritize your activities and plan your attack, not only for the short-term but well into the future. A good place to start is to prioritize fields into separate categories such as A, B & C based on the intensity of your management. Then, without putting all your eggs in one basket, manage your best field(s) at the highest level of your ability & resources (category A). This will demonstrate a number of outcomes…

1. Your ability to provide a safe, high-quality sports field.

2. Demonstrate a source of pride for your department and community.

3. It will put credibility to the conversation/justification for your program.

4. It will showcase what could be done elsewhere when proper turf management practices and budgets are in place.

Your “A” field will be your premier field where the championship games are played. The one you want to showcase. This is the field you have a sound fertilization program, regular overseeding, aerate frequently and ensure your fields are irrigated properly if you have those resources.

Finally working with your user groups and your field programmers to limit use if possible. If you can not limit use, possibly limit the field to games as opposed to practices as it has been well documented that practices typically are more damaging than games.

On management levels B & C, you can reduce overall maintenance slightly in several ways. Overall fertilization can be reduced. If your goal is to provide 4lb of nitrogen per year, cut back to 3lb per year and used a slow release type to help evenly distribute the nutrients over the season. The same can be done with weed control. Rather than yearly applications, rotate those applications every other year. Another option may be to aerate only once a year.

Re-working your maintenance program for the B & C level fields by managing them as a “field with-in-a-field” has become a popular way to re-allocate those resources. For example, on a football field, limit your practices to only the worst areas of the field such as between the hash marks. On a soccer field, limit resources to goal areas and center circle. Eliminate or reduce aeration, fertilization & weed control in common turf areas.

Finally, use volunteer groups to help with field maintenance. This usually works best with baseball and softball programs but can work elsewhere. Volunteers or user groups traditionally take a lot of pride in field maintenance. It is amazing to see what can be accomplished on a baseball or softball field with 8 to 10 volunteers on a Saturday morning.