Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.
As we all struggle through these times of epic-proportion financial crisis, it’s easy to become pessimistic. But for those of us who are centric in nature and try to find the compromises in life, there is a “glass half-full” aspect of these tough times.
I’ve seen some fairly convincing recreation-oriented examples of how people rise to the occasion and do the things that have to be done to keep their quality-of-life stable in spite of changes that would otherwise reduce it.
Here’s a good example: We have a park popularly called “Three Ponds” because it has a series of three ponds tiered in a high-, middle- and low-pond arrangement. The ponds sit in the midst of several neighborhoods, and are a crossroads of our 100-mile golf-cart path system. The highest pond catches all the runoff from a wide area, and thus has silted up and become more shallow, leading to a proliferation of aquatic weeds called “parrot feather.”
For years we’ve had a contract to care for the ponds but had to cut back due to budget constraints, so the parrot feather got out of control on the upper pond. As we thought about what to do, a group of local citizens led by a kayaker called and said they would physically remove the grass from the pond. “Don’t use any aquatic herbicides, we’ll use the physical method of controlling this,” said the ring leader. I told them to go for it. Integrated Pest Management principles teach us to use the physical removal method first, so it was a very “green” approach.
So on any given day you can walk, bike, skate, run, or golf-cart past the upper pond, and anywhere from one to half a dozen people are in the pond up to their belly buttons, pulling the grass, draping it over the kayak, and hauling it to shore. They pile it up, and our parks crew hauls it off; it is simple, effective and at no cost.
Another example is eliminating trash and litter. We take a great deal of pride in the cleanliness of our city, and for years had a two-man crew that patrolled the roadways, picking up litter. Not only did this give the city a constantly clean appearance, but it also cleared the way for mowers to mow grass, not litter.
During early rounds of budget cuts, this crew was downsized, and it quickly became apparent that its work was going to be missed. Before long, you could see citizens in orange vests patrolling the roadways with trash grabbers and bags seeking out and picking up litter. Groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Optimists formed litter crews as part of their civic duty. Scout groups earned badges for litter removal. Civics classes in schools were included in the effort. Even individual families participated.
And it didn’t stop at cleaning up. We have a group of very experienced Americans (my politically correct term for seniors) who play tennis at one of our four-court complexes. The courts are in good shape, having been re-coated within the past three years, but cracks inevitably have begun to form. Normally, we would either hire someone, or our crew would patch the cracks. We didn’t have the time, staff or money to do either, so the players offered to do the labor if we purchased the materials. That sounded fair, so we obtained the materials, gave the group lessons on patching, and away they went. The courts are patched and everyone’s happy.
Youth sports associations are also jumping in as needed, offering to do or pay for services such as fence repairs, painting and other general maintenance that can be among the first items to suffer from budget woes. While the associations do much on a regular basis, they’ve recognized that in these times they need to dig a little deeper and are rising to the task.
I’m betting that there are examples of this all over the country. Do you have any you would like to share with other readers? Your examples might serve as ideas for those who are finding themselves unable to maintain their normal levels of service.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org