The greening of parks and recreation

The greening of parks and recreation – recreation and park agencies’ role in protecting the environment; includes code of environmental ethics, and environment and recreation policy

Christopher K. Jarvi

Over the past several years, the National Recreation and Park Association has been making tremendous strides in its efforts to identify the benefits of the services that are offered on a daily basis by park and recreation agencies across the nation. The public instinctively understands and supports the concept that personal, social, economic, and environmental benefits are derived from the facilities, programs, and services that we offer. To the extent that the public continues to believe that parks and recreation can achieve such results, we can be assured of financial support for our programs.

The connection between park and recreation agencies and the environment has been commonly acknowledged for nearly a century Parks and urban open spaces were preserved to provide an antidote to the intensive development caused by the Industrial Revolution. The public expected park and recreation agencies to serve in the capacity of preserving and protecting our natural and artificially created open spaces.

However, with the advent of the environmental movement of the 1960s, park and recreation agencies also began to be identified by the public as “developers” of open space rather than as protectors of that valuable resource. This view was enhanced by those in the profession that promoted more economic development in our parks to enhance their dwindling budgets. Questionable management practices in parks — poorly trained maintenance crews routinely and unwittingly cutting down sensitive habitats or enthusiastic recreation staff using materials that added to our landfills and polluted our air — helped to further erode our credibility.

In the early 1970s, NRPA produced a landmark publication titled Islands of Hope. For the first time in the park and recreation movement, author William h. Brown addressed the necessity for and importance of park and recreaction’s association with the environment. Islands of Hope pointed out how parks and recreation could be relevant to the environmental movement through better management, environmental interpretation and environmental education. This important work was used in some colleges and universities as an educational tool, but eventually fell into disuse and is no longer in print.

The message provided in Islands of Hope has never lost its relevance. As the park and recreation profession searches for ways to demonstrate the environmental benefits provided by our agencies, we are finding that our ability to do so is somewhat limited. The parks and recreation movement has lacked a common set of professional standards by which to measure how well we serve as stewards of the public’s valuable open spaces. Furthermore, such standards have never been included in our academic accreditation, professional certification, awards programs, and agency accreditation programs. Therefore, the parks and recreation profession is not in a position to proactively demonstrate its commitment to the environment in a meaningful way and, thereby, reap the benefits that would accrue from such action.

That is not to say that all agencies across the nation lack the ability to provide role models to our community. In fact, many agencies do an outstanding job of helping the public to understand its own role in keeping the environment healthY The National Park Service and our state park systems provide facilities and programs that interpret and educate the public about their facilities. County and regional park systems are also adept at these same skills. And, many city park and recreation agencies have outstanding nature interpretive programs and quality management practices.

In Vision 2000, NRPA’s first strategic plan, the importance of re-establishing the connection between the park and recreation profession and the environment was recognized. The Board of Trustees established a task force “to define the responsibility of NRPA vis a vis the environment that will help shape attitudes, awareness and actions of the membership and the public regarding the environment with the purpose of enhancing the sense of stewardship.”

At the 1996 NRPA Congress in Kansas City, Missouri, the Environmental Task Force presented its findings. The task force developed two important documents that were unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees as Association policy The first document was The Environment and Recreation Policy, which was to govern the way in which the Association addressed environmental issues, both from the standpoint of public policy and daily operations. The second document was The Code of Ethics on the Environment, which addressed how the professional should address the environment in the provision of facilities, programs, and services. (Both documents appear at the end of this article.)

The Environmental Task Force also introduced several ideas on how the Association could better relate to environmental issues, including: (1) addressing public policy issues; (2) adjusting professional preparation, accreditation, and certification standards to encourage more knowledgeable professionals; (3) creating better design, management, and community education standards; (4) communicating the importance of the task force’s efforts; and (5) developing partnerships with other organizations that enhanced the Association’s Environment and Recreation Policy.

The task force was composed of a broad cross section of those interested in enhancing NRPA’s role in protecting and enhancing the environment. Members of the task force included Judy Beck, Monte Christensen, Bob Espeseth, Dan Gibble, Patricia Hadley, Penny Howe, Sharon Hubler, Ed Koenemann, Rachel Iversen, Wilber La Page, David Lose, Fran P. Mainella, Laurie Mathews, David Noble, Eric W. O’Brien, Maria Olshansky, Janna Rankin, Bill Semans, Rodger Schmitt, Jim Truncer and Dr. Gail Vander Stoep. It was chaired by Christopher K. Jarvi and staffed by Barry Tindall. The work plan outlined by the task force is far from being completed. Staff, Branch and Section leadership and a number of standing Trustee Committees have been asked to address the recommendations proposed by the task force.

Time will tell whether the park and recreation profession can “walk its talk” with regard to the public’s commonly held belief that the profession has a relevant role in protecting and enhancing the environment. However, the Environmental Task Force has created a blueprint for action that will begin to help legitimize and standardize the role of parks and recreation with regard to environmental stewardship. The extent of our success will dictate the level of public support we can expect and deserve.

RELATED ARTICLE: Code of Ethics on the Environment

Preamble

The National Recreation and Park Association believes that park and recreation citizen and professional advocates, whether at the local, state or national level, have an environmental responsibility to assume a leadership role in conserving the quality of the natural environment. This belief originates from the recognition that the critical relationship between human activity and the natural environment includes our urban parks, greenways, open spaces, historic and cultural sites and our vast wildland and marine reserves.

Park and recreation advocates can carry out this responsibility by the creation and implementation of policies and practices which promote environmentally sensitive planning, management, and development and by integrating environmental education into the quality recreation opportunities made available to their constituents. In doing so, they provide an example and promote sound environmental practices and lifestyles among the constituents that they serve. Through high-quality recreation experiences, the public will nurture a sense of reverence, connectedness and stewardship for the natural environment, and develop its own environmental ethic.

Code Of Ethics

All park and recreation advocates, because of their special responsibility to assure resource accessibility for today, resource protection for tomorrow and high-quality environmental experiences for all, subscribe to the following basic tenets of conduct:

* Purchase and use environmentally safe and sensitive products for use in facility and park operations, taking into consideration the effects of product production, use, storage and disposal.

* Implement management practices and programs which help to conserve and protect water and soil, enhance air quality and protect wildlife.

* Investigate, implement and promote the use of “state-of-the-art,” energy-conserving technologies as they are able to be applied to ongoing operations.

* Reduce waste production, reuse and recycle materials from facility and park operations, use recycled products and handle hazardous and all other wastes according to lawful and safe procedures.

* Use planning and design techniques which will recognize the unique environmental characteristics of the site and will emphasize those characteristics through the site’s proposed development, management and interpretation.

* Provide innovative and creative programs which increase appreciation for the natural world, promote environmentally conscious lifestyles, emphasize selective consumption and low-impact resource and transcend the boundaries of our own agencies.

* Implement maintenance management practices which recognize the natural attributes and sensitivity of the sites being maintained and support the mission of the profession to promote the value and integrity of our park assets.

* Cooperate with allied organizations and individuals by forming partnerships, sharing resources, assisting in conflict resolution, and advocating the values of the environment to ensure proper stewardship for the descendants that follow us.

In endorsing these basic precepts, the park and recreation advocate expresses the belief that he or she has an obligation to set an example and assume a leadership position in the development and use of policies, practices and programs which promote a healthy environment.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Environment and Recreation Policy

As Amended by the Environmental Task Force

October 5, 1995

Preamble

The National Recreation and Park Association recognizes that the quality of human life depends on an ecologically sustainable and aesthetically pleasing physical environment. We recognize also that improved environmental conditions expand the diversity and quality of recreation experiences for all people. We believe that the integrity of our nation’s natural and cultural resources is profoundly influenced by population, technology, economy and other forces. We believe that park and recreation sites should and often do represent exemplary models of stewardship and should be managed to inform and to encourage others to act responsibly toward environmental maintenance and reform. We advocate policies and practices which will restore, maintain, improve and sustain the integrity of park and recreation systems to benefit society.

Statement of Policy

It is, therefore, the policy of the Association to provide leadership, by both example and action, in shaping the attitudes and awareness of the membership, elected and appointed officials and the public regarding their historic, cultural and natural environment for the purposes of evoking responsible action and enhancing a sense of stewardship among all people.

Actions

In pursuit of this policy, the Association will:

1. Enact, maintain and promote an environmental ethic outlining professional, agency and citizen responsibilities with regard to our historic, cultural and natural environment.

2. Sponsor and encourage training, research and publications which promote the development, understanding and application of sound environmental policies and practices in the art and science of parks and recreation.

3. Advocate the advancement and perpetuation of design, development and management practices which ensure long-term recreation use while maintaining and sustaining the resource’s environmental integrity and biodiversity.

4. Educate the public as well as elected and appointed officials with regard to the importance of the role of park and recreation agencies as stewards of public lands and waters and conservators of our natural and cultural resources.

5. Ensure that the environmental policy is reflected in the public policy efforts of the Association.

6. Develop mutually beneficial partnerships and coalitions with the other public, nonprofit and private organizations to advance the Association’s environmental agenda.

7. Provide guidelines and recognition programs for the purpose of encouraging exemplary site and facility design, management, preservation and conservation of natural resources, social services and community stewardship.

8. Encourage park and recreation agencies to develop and maintain recreation and interpretive programs which will promote a broader understanding of the historic, cultural and natural resources managed by park and recreation agencies.

9. Act as a role model by demonstrating how best to implement and maintain sound environmental operational practices and procedures in all of the Association’s activities and programs.

10. Promote citizen involvement through encouraging public participation in environmentally based activities, in community-wide events celebrating cultural, historical and natural history and in volunteerism with the objective of fostering a stronger sense of stewardship among those we serve.

11. Promote public strategies and investments, public/private partnerships and other actions to acquire and/or conserve lands and waters for recreation and park purposes.

12. Support public policies and action which enhance the integrity of and recreation experience offered by national conservation systems — forests, parks, refuges, public lands and other reserves — and challenge actions which would degrade these resources.

COPYRIGHT 1997 National Recreation and Park Association

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