By Randy Gaddo
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.
During a recent visit to Beaufort, S.C., my wife and I discovered the Naval Heritage Park in adjacent Port Royal.
The amenity that first attracted us was a huge skate park, open on all sides with a metal roof. It was well-maintained and monitored, and at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, about 30 people, from pre-teen to 20-something, were skating. Everyone appeared to be having a great time, so I decided to stop and snap a couple of photos, capturing a canopy of enormous live oaks draped with Spanish moss.
Walking around the structure, we noticed a group of tents nearby and a good-sized crowd, so we decided to investigate. Several vendors in an open-air farmer’s market were selling everything from locally grown vegetables to oysters from local waters.
The little park—complete with a gazebo, picnic area, and landscaped arbor area—was interesting and obviously well-attended. I contacted the local recreation-operations manager, Dan Lemieux, to discuss what type of maintenance issues he faced.
He informed me the park was in use much of the year due to the mild climate. He added that because of the consistent attendance, finding time to do maintenance and repairs was tricky, but said he relies heavily on volunteers.
“We have a local church group that includes some of the skaters and young military members who come out at least twice a year to help us paint, do minor repairs, and clean up,” he said, noting there are two Marine bases and a naval hospital nearby.
“Getting the community involved gives them ownership in the park. Keeping it clean and modern also brings lots of people out to use it, so it tends to discourage vandalism.”
He noted that the skate park was recently repainted with anti-graffiti paint made by Sherwin Williams, and can be washed with soap and water.
“It has a rubber-like finish and cleans up easily,” he commented. “We painted it a dark-blue instead of white, so it doesn’t look like a clean-paint palette. Knowing we can clean it right off seems to discourage [vandals] from doing it.”
An Untapped Resource
I thought the conversation was going to be about multi-use facilities, but I quickly became fixated on another point Lemieux raised—using volunteers for park maintenance.
Volunteers can be unpredictable and even unreliable, but a well-organized group—assigned the right task, issued clear (written) marching orders, and provided the proper support and supervision—can free paid staff to perform other tasks. The secret to using volunteers effectively is to employ a paid staff member or an incredibly reliable volunteer to monitor those willing to help the cause.
An informal website search revealed that many parks and recreation organizations utilize volunteers, but their effectiveness varies.
One favorable example is the San Diego Parks and Recreation’s volunteer web page. It divides opportunities by both the task (habitat restoration, office assistance, etc.) and location (visitor center, Balboa Park lounge, etc.). The page outlines the amount of time required as well as contact information and any requirements to participate.
For example, the library-assistant specifications are: “is 16 years or older; enjoys working with public and assisting people; is familiar with library organization and research.”
Organization And Supervision
Another commendable site is the city of Arlington’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources in Virginia. It lists volunteer opportunities and requirement areas such as gardens, nature centers, commissions, advisory councils, youth sports, and even donations to an open-space fund.
Listing items with this level of detail is important because people generally want to volunteer in areas that are of interest to them.
“We base the volunteer opportunities on what people want to do,” said Susan Kalish, the department’s marketing and communications director.
The robust volunteer program started in earnest a couple of years ago when one of the parks was in danger of closing due to budget restraints.
“Citizen volunteers stepped in and helped, and we have built on that effort,” she said. “We continued to structure the volunteer program from there.”
Kalish said there are now two full-time employees coordinating volunteers.
“There is very little we won’t allow volunteers to do, as long as they have proper training and supervision,” she stressed, adding that paid employees are always with volunteers to supervise projects.
An important feature of the program is that volunteers are required to sign a document that outlines exactly what he or she will be doing, as well as the requirements for the job.
“We let them know we have expectations,” Kalish said. “We require that they participate in a project at least once a quarter, and everything is outlined in the agreement they sign, so there is no room for confusion.”
Do any readers have stories or advice about your multi-use parks or volunteers? If so, let me or the PRB editor know, and we’ll share it.
Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email email@example.com.