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Parks

A park can be as simple as a grassy area with a playground or more elaborate to include hiking trails and stables.

A park bench can be an ideal spot for relaxation. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A park bench can be an ideal spot for relaxation.

Parks

How do state and local agencies manage parks and park districts?

About State Parks

State parks are parks within the federal parks system managed by local levels of government and administered by the individual government of a U.S. state.

Even though state parks represent less than 2 percent of the total outdoor recreation areas in the U.S., they manage to attract over 29 percent of all visitors to outdoor recreational areas. There are almost 6,000 state parks that attract almost 800 million visitors annually. U.S. state parks employ over 50,000 full-time and seasonal personnel.

A typical state park can include:

  • Trails
  • Campsites
  • Cabins and cottages
  • Lodges
  • Golf courses
  • Ski slopes
  • Marinas
  • Swimming pools
  • Stables


The National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) helps state park government agencies effectively manage and administer their state park systems.

About State Park Agencies

Because the state of California contains many of the nation's state parks, its state government can serve as a prime example of state park management infrastructure. The California Department of Parks and Recreation is part of the California Natural Resources Agency, a state cabinet-level agency. The Department of Parks and Recreation is led by the Director of State Parks who answers to the California State Park & Recreation Commission -- six appointed private citizens.

The Commissions responsibilities include:

  • Approving general plans for individual parks within the California state park system
  • Establishing general policies for the guidance of the Director of State Parks
  • Providing an annual report for the Governor on existing and operating recreational facilities, programs and activities within the state park system
  • Recommending the development of additional state parks and new park programs and activities
  • Determining if hunting in certain park areas will threaten the safety of recreation area users
  • Approving the sale of alcoholic beverages in state park jurisdiction areas


The agencies within California's Department of Parks and Recreation include:

  • The State of California Office of Grants and Local Services (OGALS) administers grant programs that provide funds to local and state agencies for Parks and Recreation related projects.
  • California State Parks Planning Division provides technical support and research for the management and development of California's public Park and Recreation lands and facilities including statewide trail planning.
  • California State Parks General Plans Division provides development and management resources for individual state parks. They also create reports that make specific resource management and facilities operations recommendations.
  • The California Department of Parks and Recreation Natural Resources Division provide inventory, monitoring and assessment programs that evaluate the state park systems vegetation, wildlife and physical natural resources. After assessment, the agency creates policies for the protection and improved management of the state park system and enforces environmental compliance under California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

 

About Local Parks and Recreation Departments

Local Parks and Recreation Departments can be administered by a state agency, or by a municipal, county, or parish authority.

Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Boards oversee most local parks and recreation departments. Board members are usually appointed by an elected body like a city council, or by an individual mayor or even state governor.

Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Boards can work independently or semi-independently from the Parks and Recreation Director. Common duties of a Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board include:

  • Recommending and/or developing policy for the day-to-day operation of the department
  • Grant writing and other methods of generating and increasing fundraising resources for the parks and recreation department
  • Managing the parks and recreation department budget
  • Managing the department's information technology systems


A Parks and Recreation Department Director is usually an elected or appointed position. Common duties of a Parks and Recreation Department Director or Chief include:

  • Working with the Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board
  • Providing orientation for new Board members
  • Supervising the maintenance of local park areas, recreation facilities, along with open space and conversation areas
  • Developing park maintenance standards
  • Reviewing budget reports from the city or county's accounting department
  • Working with the city's legal department
  • Recruiting, training and managing department personnel while maintaining a working relationship with the city human resources department
  • Receiving and recommending vendor bids for Parks and Recreation Department services
  • Finding private and public funding sources


When city budgets are cut, Parks and Recreation Departments are usually the first on the list of spending cuts. Some more progressive Parks and Recreation Departments have actually formed nonprofit organizations through private citizen and corporate funding. The Piedmont Park Conservancy in Atlanta serves as a successful example as does New York's Central Park, which is co-managed by the Central Park Conservancy organization and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

The National Association of Olmsted Parks is a nonprofit coalition of design and preservation professionals including park managers and city officials. The aim of this organization is to preserve city parks designed by 19th century landscape architecture pioneer Frederick Law Olmsted. These parks include New York's Central Park, Detroit's Belle Isle and Franklin Park in Boston.

About City Park District Management

Because the Chicago Park District is the largest park district in the U.S., it can serve as a prime example of a large-scale city park management infrastructure.

Chicago's Mayor appoints a seven-member Park District Board of Commissioners. They serve as the governing body of the Chicago Park District. The Board has three standing committees: Administration, Programs & Recreation and Capital Improvements. The Office of the Secretary serves as coordinating staff to the Commissioners.

The Mayor also appoints the General Manager and CEO of the Chicago Park District, who administers the policies established by the Park District Board of Commissioners.

Other Chicago Park District officials include:

  • The Chief Operating Officer provides assistance to the General Manager and manages the day-to-day operations with oversight of construction management, park services and the planning and development of facilities
  • The Chief Financial Officer makes financial decisions related to investments, budgeting and cash management
  • The Director of the Department of Audits conducts internal audits that assess waste and management


Additional officials are the Director of Capital Construction, the Director of the Department of Communications, Comptroller, Director of the Facility Management Department, the Director of Human Resources, the Director of Information Technology, General Counsel and the Director of Natural Resources (The Chicago Park District's green department).

Parks Management Education Programs

Several colleges and universities offer Parks and Recreation Management programs for aspiring park management professionals. These education programs typically receive accreditation from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). For certification, aspiring park management professionals should earn a B.A. with a major in recreation, park resources or leisure services from an NRPA-accredited program, or earn any B.A. with at least five years of relevant full-time work experience. Their website provides a list of accredited Parks and Recreation Management programs.

Fields of study in Parks Management education programs can include:

  • Community and Commercial Recreation Management
  • Wildlife Recreation Management
  • Community Recreation Programming such as special events and cultural events
  • Recreation Area Design
  • Park Law Enforcement including wilderness first-responder training and natural resource protection
  • Wildland Recreation Management including forest and range plants and trees knowledge, along with recreation ecology and land use planning
  • Ecotourism

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