Congress must value the impact of parks and recreation

Impact of parks and recreation graphic

Parks and recreation intersects with and positively impacts these segments of society…Health, Environment, Education, Transportation and the Economy…and here are some basics that Congress needs to understand:

  • Education – Parks are outdoor classrooms and laboratories for experiential learning; complementing in-school science education curriculums, students gain a valuable perspective as they engage with nature .
  • Health – parks, trails and recreation/fitness centers are part of the preventive healthcare system, and when combined are the most expansive, affordable and accessible health, wellness and fitness facility in the nation.
  • Environment – parks and public spaces are carbon sinks and help balance the carbon cycle; improve air quality and reduce the urban heat island effect in urban areas; parks are made for green infrastructure through natural stormwater management.
  • Transportation – Similar to the federal interstate highway boom in the 1950s, multi-use trails, greenways and rail-trails are proliferating…connecting people and communities across the nation; besides the health and environmental benefits from biking and walking, trails are transportation too.
  • Economy -Outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in spending in the U.S. each year; proximity to parks has proved to boost residential property values and tax revenues; cities are making parks a central piece of urban revitalization and economic development strategies; the new generation of workers highly value locations with abundant parks, trails and close-to-home recreation opportunities.


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Hunger doesn’t end when school’s out

Summer MealsSummer Food Service Program1

Summer is just around the corner, and kids will be flocking to local parks across the country to participate in camp and other summer recreation programs. Many of the 162 million kids living in food insecure households are eligible for free and reduced price meals in their schools…an estimated 35 million children eat those healthy meals each school day through U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. The highest instances of food insecurity for kids is in the summer. While kids are getting nutritious meals during the school year, families are losing that opportunity during the summer months. Unfortunately, only 1 of the 6 children who are eligible for those meals in school participate in the Child Nutrition Act’s Summer Food Service Program. There are a number of reasons for this drop in summer participation. One of the major reasons is that families are not aware that free meals are available in the summer…and even if there is an awareness, access to sites that offer free meals can be a challenge.

The Summer Meals Program Act of 2015 would expand eligibility, streamline the application process for meal site sponsors, and include a mobile food delivery service provision. Serving 560 million free, reduced price meals a year, parks and recreation agencies are the largest public provider of children’s meals during the summer months. Parks and recreation agencies have the capacity to effectively reach children in need of nutritious meals.

The argument that the federal government should not be in the business of providing free meals to kids is not valid. Without access to nutritious food sources, kids fall  further behind in school performance and the adverse impact on kids’ health and wellness. The U.S. has the most bountiful agriculture output in the world, and investment in children’s health is in the national interest. Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act and pass the Summer Meals Act too sufficiently fund important programs that help our children grow. The Summer Feeding Program must flourish in our local parks!


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Environmental law class is more relevant than ever

Environmental Law

One of the best classes I took at Indiana University was environmental law. I am not an attorney, but I have often referred to this textbook to help explain the case law that addresses environmental issues for which I am advocating. I recently pulled my old environmental law textbook off the shelf, and turned to the classic U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens to the 1971 Preserve Overton Park v. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Overton Park is a beautiful 350-acre park near downtown Memphis…an urban oasis for hundreds of thousands of residents in the growing metro area. The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a plan to reconfigure U.S. 40 with a design that would bisect Overton Park. This seemed to be the most direct and cost effective way to route the major highway. It would save millions of dollars in public expenditures and eliminate controversial eminent domain over private property.

This seemed to be a “slam dunk” for the U.S. Department of Transportation, but a band of citizens who were passionate about preserving the integrity of Overton Park that stepped up and challenged the proposal. Ultimately the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on the basis of Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, the court ruled that the protection of parkland was to be given paramount importance. The legalities of this case have set a precedent, and pitting two public entities against each other…public transportation and public parks…is a no-win for Americans.

For me the real story is the grassroots advocacy of a group of citizens in Memphis who were not going to stand by and see their prized public park split in two by an interstate highway. The citizens of Overton Park fought this issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court…and won. Today, Overton Park is protected by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) friends of the park group. It is because of these citizen advocates that Overton Park is thriving today in Memphis. Their staunch advocacy has spawned nonprofit park foundations and friends groups across the country, who are supporting and advocating for their local parks.



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Parks champion the Clean Water Act

Lake Lemon Indiana

Forty-five years ago the U.S. House and U.S. Senate overrode a President Richard Nixon veto to pass one of the nations historic environmental laws…the 1972 Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to establish rules and regulations designed to protect our nation’s water resources. A few of the provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act include:

  • established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the U.S.
  • set water quality standards for contaminants in surface waters
  • made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters (effluent from discharge pipes)
  • plans to address the critical issues posed by nonpoint source pollution (farm fields, parking lots etc.)
Park districts and parks and recreation agencies are actively involved in protecting the waterways…lakes, reservoirs, streams and wetlands…under their jurisdiction in an effort to reach EPA’s goal of fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. Best management practices such as developing green infrastructure like rain gardens to control stormwater runoff on park land, constructed wetlands and bioswales for pollution control. Mowing practices have been changed to allow vegetative buffers to grow near streams and water conveying drainage ditches to protect water quality.

Here three park districts that are providing exemplary water quality management:

  • Geauga Park District in northeast Ohio operates 925-acre Headwaters Park as a natural resource designed to protect water quality for aquatic life and its downstream neighbors. Headwaters Park is located in the upper reaches of the polluted Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in 1969 and stimulated the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
  • Naperville Park District near Chicago is a leader in water conservation. With the assistance of a grant from the EPA through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, the Naperville Park District made improvements at four parks that are helping to protect water quality in the DuPage River and other local streams. Each of these best management practices reduce the amount of water pollution carried by stormwater to the DuPage River.
  • Three Rivers Park District, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, owns all or part of the shoreline of 34 lakes, two rivers, six streams and hundreds of wetlands. Their Water Resources Management section cooperates with surrounding communities and watershed management organizations to implement best management practices e.g. water quality monitoring, exotic species control, pollution reduction, and well management. Three Rivers Park District makes water quality a management priority, which has made the park district one of the most revered outdoor recreation resources in the country.

The aforementioned park districts and many more have benefited from EPA grants. Section 319 grants have assisted in shoreline restoration and removing waterway-choking low head dams; Safe Drinking Water Revolving Fund has facilitated park districts and public water utility partnerships for projects such as stream corridor protection and restoration projects; and the National Environmental Education Act has provided grants to promote environmental education, which many park districts have used to develop watershed and water quality education.

The administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts the EPA by 31%, which would dramatically reduce or eliminate programs that have a prove record of improving the nation’s water quality. Water is the lifeblood of our health and of our economy. It makes economic sense to fund programs that address water quality issues upstream…in the headwaters before they impact the health and the economy of those downstream. Park districts are at the forefront of the water quality movement…and they need a strong EPA to continue the fight for clean water. Advocates for clean water and a strong EPA are needed more than ever.

Water quality Naperville3

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Dayton hosts 2017 International Trails Symposium

International Trails Symposium Dayton

Every two years American Trails sponsors the International Trails Symposium. This year the three day event is in Dayton…the Miami Valley region in Southwest Ohio. Indeed, partnering organizations and volunteers have created a system in which most Dayton-area residents live within 10 to 15 minutes of a trail. The Miami Valley region is home to the nation’s largest paved trail network, which draws approximately 772,000 visitors every year. In late 2016, the region’s 300-plus mile paved recreation trail network was linked with one in the Columbus area, connecting an additional 119 miles.

Paved bicycle/pedestrian trails are not the only type of trail featured in the Miami Valley region. In 2016 the Great Miami River Watershed Trail was designated a National Water Trail System by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The water trail — which includes the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers — is the only national water trail in Ohio. Benefits of this designation include national promotion and visibility, increased tourism and money to local economies, and improved public health and quality of life.

Partnerships have been a major factor in building a strong, unified identity as a destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and trail lovers. Eighteen agencies and organizations are partnering to make the International 2017 Trails Symposium a success. Candace Mitchell, director of operations for American Trails said “Partnerships are a big part of trails, and the Dayton community has great experience with this.”



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Great Lakes Park Training Institute turns 70

Great Lakes Park Training Institute 2017In its 70th year of serving the parks, recreation and conservation profession, the 2017 Great Lakes Park Training Institute is February 27 – March 2 at winter wonderland Pokagon State Park in northeast Indiana. The GLPTI, operated by Indiana University’s Eppley Institute for Parks & Public Lands, attracts park and facilities managers, operations and maintenance managers, trail managers, planners, outdoor recreation managers and environmental educators for 4 days of interactive education sessions and workshops and networking opportunities. Review the program schedule and registration information at

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A New Year for Parks and Recreation

Impact of parks and recreation graphic

Every two years voters seat a new two-year U.S. Congress, which brings many changes to the legislative body…philosophies, ideologies and agendas.  Parks and recreation is consistent…non partisan and inclusive of all races, ethnicities, genders, and people of all ages and abilities. When Congress begins debating healthcare, education, transportation, the environment, the economy and the quality of life for America’s citizens, parks and recreation plays a significant role in each of these sectors. While great strides were made the last two years in the 114th Congress, the new 115th Congress presents new challenges and opportunities to advance the parks and recreation movement. Here is a synopsis:

Health & Wellness – Parks and recreation is standing with community-based organizations, and millions of Americans suffering from obesity and other chronic diseases to provide robust funding to the Prevention and Public Health Fund in the Affordable Care Act or any comprehensive health bill that may replace it. Parks and Recreation is a vital part of America’s preventive healthcare system.

The Summer Meals Act of 2015, in the larger Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, must be authorized and funds appropriated to continue nutritious food service to kids in our parks, camps and community recreation centers. The Summer Meals Act would strengthen, protect, and expand access to the Summer Nutrition Programs.

The Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) would allow taxpayers to place up to $2,000 a year in existing pre-tax medical accounts for reimbursement of physical activity expenses. Lower costs will promote active lifestyles and improve the health of Americans. The PHIT Act will put prevention in our healthcare system. What we have today is basically “sick care”. PHIT will help promote “wellness care” or true healthcare.

Education – The last Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for four years. ESSA makes environmental education a subject eligible for grant funding for the first time ever in a comprehensive federal education bill. There are great opportunities for parks and recreation agencies and schools to collaborate in environmental education programming e.g. STEM. While the education bill is now law, administration of grant funds is in the hands of each state department of education. Advocates must be vigilant in the annual appropriations process, ensuring that Title IV grant funds are maximally allocated to grant programs.

Transportation – Last year Congress passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), which reauthorized the federal surface transportation bill for five years. The FAST Act eliminates the MAP-21 Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) and replaces it with a set-aside of Surface Transportation Block Grant program funding for transportation alternatives (TA). These set-aside funds include all projects and activities that were previously eligible under TAP, encompassing a variety of smaller-scale transportation projects such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, recreational trails, safe routes to school projects, community improvements such as historic preservation and vegetation management, and environmental mitigation related to stormwater and habitat connectivity. The popular Recreational Trails Program was funded at $835 million in 2016, rising to $850 million in 2018 thru 2020. Although this is a five year reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill, funding is only authorized for three years as Congress struggles to find a sufficient and reliable funding source for America’s transportation program.

Environment and Conservation – Last year’s 114th Congress finally reauthorized the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), but only for the next three years. Parks and recreation advocates will continue to urge Congress to pass a permanently and fully funded reauthorization of the LWCF Act. The LWCF State/Local Assistance grant program, which has acquired and developed parkland and conserved natural resources in all 50 states and in every county in America since the law was enacted in 1965, is still woefully underfunded at an average of 13% of total LWCF appropriations. LWCF revenue is derived from offshore oil and gas leases, which is an appropriate funding source that does not burden the American tax payer.

Economy – America’s local and regional public park agencies and park districts generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost 1 million jobs from their operations and capital spending alone in 2013. When the spending at local and regional parks is combined with that of national and state parks, public parks are responsible for more than $200 billion in annual economic activity.

Quality of Life – By any measure, parks and recreation improves the quality of life for citizens across the country. Parks and trails are in high demand as ballot measures are supported by an average of 70% of the voters each year. Health, education, transportation, the environment are all improved in communities where there is a well supported parks and recreation program. Looking forward to an outstanding 2017!

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Communities say “yes” to parks


The 2016 election was not all about electing the next president of the United States or members of the U.S. House or U.S. Senate. There was certainly one winner in the 2016 election that received bi-partisan support…parks, recreation and conservation. Voters have voted their values over the past 20 years by approving 75 percent of local and state conservation and parks ballot measures according to the Trust for Public Land. In 2016 Ohio voters passed 40 out of 44 ballot initiatives, including tax levies to expand, operate and maintain park districts and to construct recreation facilities in municipal parks and recreation agencies.

A new president will take office and a new 115th Congress will convene in January 2017, and parks and recreation advocates will be focusing on a number of issues and opportunities. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to fund government agencies at current levels through December 9, 2016 and will most likely approve another CR through March. While there were some positive actions in the 114th Congress in 2016, there is still some unfinished business on the federal level.

Congress reauthorized the Land & Water Conservation Fund Act for three years, and allocated $90 million to the State and Local Assistance Program. The LWCF State/Local Assistance Program, which offers dollar-for-dollar federal/state and local matching grants, takes offshore oil/gas lease revenue and puts it back into conservation and outdoor recreation stateside. It is the only federal grant program that goes directly to states and local units of government for land acquisition, park and outdoor recreation facility development, and planning, but has been woefully underfunded in the last 15 years. Local governments and the communities they represent are required to provide 50% of a LWCF grant, which demonstrates a commitment to invest in what they value. Parks and recreation advocates will be lobbying Congress to permanently, fully and equitably fund the LWCF…a 40% set aside for the State and Local Grant Program that matches the 40% guaranteed to federal agencies e.g. National Park Service for land acquisition.

One of the positive actions that Congress took in the 114th Congress was the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the reauthorization of the federal education law called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes environmental education as a fundable subject for the first time ever in a federal education bill. The Every Student Succeeds Act opens opportunities for parks and recreation agencies to partner with public schools to provide environmental education programs in outdoor classrooms…like parks.

The implicit message in the 2016 elections is that the public…and communities across the U.S. are voting their values. Parks, recreation and conservation issues resonate with voters, and we hope that it resonates with the 115th Congress. Advocates will carry the message to Capitol Hill.

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Why Congress should fully and equitably fund the Land & Water Conservation Fund


Capitol View Park in Frankfort, KY

Capitol View Park in Frankfort, KY 

In 1962 Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC), a study commissioned by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, released a comprehensive report on American’s access to outdoor recreation opportunities. The report concluded that there was inadequate access at the national, state and local levels of government. After 54 years the lack of quality parks and outdoor recreation opportunities in the U.S. still exists. The ORRRC stimulated the passage of the landmark Land & Water Conservation Fund Act in 1965. The LWCF Act was enacted to preserve, develop, and ensure access to outdoor recreation and conserve natural resources. While Congress has authorized the LWCF at $900 million, monies must be appropriated by Congress on an annual basis. Only three times in LWCF’s 50 year history has Congress fully appropriated the full authorization. Historically, Congress has tapped into the LWCF for other programs. LWCF revenues are not derived from income taxes, but rather from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease royalties. The concept was to take a portion of the money earned from offshore oil and gas…a finite resource…and put it into federal, state and local outdoor recreation and conservation projects. The LWCF Act provides funding to federal agencies…National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management…to acquire land to expand and protect resources.



The federal land holding agencies are guaranteed 40% of the total annual appropriation in the LWCF Act. State and local governments, under the LWCF State Assistance program, were guaranteed 60% of the total appropriation when LWCF was enacted in 1965. In 1979 the 60% set aside was removed from the LWCF Act authorization, and the State Assistance program has been subject to Congress’s annual appropriation process ever since. This has led to a disparity in funding between the federal land holding agencies and state and local governments. The federal agencies have received 62% of the total funding and the State Assistance program has been allocated 28% over the life of the LWCF Act. The LWCF State Assistance program, administered by the National Park Service, provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to states for outdoor recreation planning, acquisition of parkland and waters, and outdoor recreation facility development. Since LWCF was enacted in 1965 more than 45,000 projects have been supported in every county in the U.S. (including the 18th Street Park in the town of Ferdinand, IN pictured above). In each of these projects, a state or community has matched the grant with a 50% investment and has agreed to maintain the park for public outdoor recreation in perpetuity.

Recall that the 1962 ORRRC report was a response to the growing consciousness of public health and environmental issues in the U.S. The report stated that national, state and local outdoor recreation opportunities must be increased to meet public demand and to improve the health and protect the environment. The demand for outdoor recreation has not diminished, but resources to provide close-to-home parks and recreation opportunities is still challenged. In order to meet the outdoor recreation demand and address the funding disparity between the federal land holding agencies and state and local governments, Congress should respect the intent and purpose of the LWCF when it was enacted by authorizing a policy that sets aside a 40% allocation to the State Assistance program to match the 40% currently specified to the federal agencies for land acquisition. Here are a few of the compelling reasons to fully ($900 million a year) and equitably fund (40% federal agencies and 40% State/Local Assistance) the Land and Water Conservation Fund:

  • Revenues from offshore oil/gas lease royalties take monies from non renewable sources and put them back into conservation and outdoor recreation. Federal income taxes do not support the LWCF.
  • LWCF State Assistance is the only federal grant program that directly funds state and local parks, outdoor recreation and conservation projects. Each state and local partners must develop a State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) every five years that assesses outdoor recreation opportunities and prioritizes grant-assisted projects. LWCF State Assistance is a competitive grant program.
  • LWCF State Assistance requires state and local governments to provide a 50% match of the federal grant, which means there is a local commitment to invest in a park project.
  • While it is important that the LWCF support federal agencies’ land acquisition programs, the vast majority of American citizens depend on their local parks for outdoor recreation opportunities on a daily basis.
  • Without a 40% specification to the State Assistance program, discretionary funding is disproportionately allocated, inadequate, and is unpredictable from year to year.

The ORRRC report and the LWCF Act recognized the importance of outdoor recreation opportunities in America…and its positive impact on health and the environment. This is why Congress should fully and equitably fund the LWCF to ensure outdoor recreation opportunities at the federal, state and local levels.

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The PHIT Act promotes fitness



Congress is seriously talking about reforming the U.S. tax policy. Part of this discussion is a provision that would amend the Internal Revenue Code, and it is strongly supported by parks and recreation advocates.The Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT Act), S. 2218 and H.R. 1218, is bi-partisan legislation pending in Congress which will allow Americans to use pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activity expenses, e.g. fitness and recreation centers.The PHIT Act would provide an incentive for adults and their children to get fit, which will help prevent healthcare costs related to preventable chronic diseases.

Currently, pre-tax medical accounts are primarily used for reimbursement of medical expenses once you become sick. PHIT would allow taxpayers to place up to $2,000 a year in existing pre-tax medical accounts for reimbursement of physical activity expenses. Lower costs will promote active lifestyles and improve the health of Americans.

The PHIT Act will put prevention in our healthcare system.  PHIT will help promote “wellness care” or true healthcare.

The activities eligible for pre-tax reimbursement under the PHIT Act include:

  • Youth & Adult Sports League Fees
  • Health Club Membership
  • Exercise Classes & Personal Trainers
  • Sports & Fitness Equipment (used exclusively for participation in physical activities)
  • Youth Camps
  • Pay-to-Play School Sports Fees
  • Organized Running Event Registration Fees
  • Martial Arts, Gymnastics & other Physical Activities

The World Health Organization determined that in the United States a $1 investment in physical activity alone (in time and equipment) would reduce medical expenses by $3.20. Research indicates that 2 in 5 Americans would become more physically active if offered a financial incentive such as that provided in the PHIT Act.

Advocates, please contact your members of Congress and urge their support!

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