What Nonprofits Do For Parks: Activities

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 20, 2017

Excerpted from Public Parks, Private Partners, published by Project for Public Spaces.

While every nonprofit provides its own unique type of support for a park, almost all nonprofit activities fall into the nine categories listed in the right column, each of which is a link to a section on that topic.

A nonprofit's activities are closely tied to its role in the park. For example, nearly all nonprofit organizations raise money. Most also organize volunteers and outreach efforts. Larger organizations may be involved in the design and execution of capital projects as well as regular maintenance of the park, and design professionals, as well as horticulturists and landscape historians, are key members of their staffs and boards.

However, the more involved an organization becomes in the actual management of the park, the less likely it is to engage in outright advocacy. Therefore, many organizations stay out of more management oriented activities, such as routine maintenance, capital improvements, and security, not only because these options are more expensive and involved, but because they may compromise their ability to advocate.

For example, if such groups are oriented to advocate for more public sector commitment to parks, they may feel strongly that the private sector has no place taking over management duties that the city should provide as a basic service. Of course, these groups may also engage in other activities such as marketing, outreach, and programming, or there may be another group in the city that performs some or all of those activities, along with advocacy.

1. Fundraising

Fundraising is one of the most common activities that nonprofit organizations get involved in, not only because their tax-exempt status makes them eligible for funds from foundations and more attractive to individual donors, but also because it allows them to articulate concrete, visible park needs and goals. A nonprofit's ability to dedicate funds directly to a park project is particularly attractive to a city with a big vision but lack of funds to implement it. Fundraising also can serve as a park advocacy tool and raise awareness of the work of the nonprofit organization. It generally centers around three types of park needs: to supplement annual operating budgets, to implement capital projects, and to establish an endowment to ensure ongoing park maintenance, restoration, and management.

Fundraising for annual operating funds to supplement existing public operating budgets often involves membership drives and frequent low cost events, which have the added benefit of exposing infrequent or non-park users to the park and stimulating and encouraging longer-term involvement. Though donations are typically small, park outreach is great. Concession sales and educational programming fees are other sources for raising money that are often channeled into annual operating funds. Because they do not translate into visible projects in the park, and because some philanthropies will not give for this purpose, many nonprofits consider operating funds to be the most difficult kind of funds to raise.

Fundraising for capital campaigns tends to rely more on personal solicitations to individual and corporate donors than on events. Once the capital money is raised, design and construction is often carried out by the parks department or contracted out to private firms. Fundraising for endowment campaigns, like capital campaigns, tends to focus on larger donations from private individuals and corporations as well as matching grants from foundations. Of course, public partners can provide fundraising help as well, acting as agents to receive federal, state, and local grants and opportunities, and pursuing grants from government sources.

Fundraising Profile:

Forest Park Forever

St. Louis, Missouri

Since it was established in 1986, Forest Park Forever has been heavily involved in fundraising activities. The group runs three different fund- raising efforts: an annual Friends membership campaign; Restoring the Glory, a mammoth $43 million capital restoration campaign that is being conducted to match funds pledged by the city of St. Louis; and a Forest Park Trust to establish an endowment for ongoing park maintenance. According to Jim Mann, Forest Park Forever's executive director, the three campaigns target different audiences and require different types of fundraising activities and events.

The annual Friends campaign combines a membership drive with a drive to raise funds for annual operating expenses and park maintenance. Individuals, foundations, and corporations are asked to join and contribute to reach the $2.5 million per year goal. The fundraising events are inexpensive and are aimed toward encouraging park usage, says Mann. One particularly successful event is the annual Directors Tour, where members who have contributed $150 or more are invited for a bus tour of the park given by the executive director. Light refreshments are served, and brochures about the park, including self-guided walking tours, are handed to participants as they step off the bus. Other events encourage park usage for members, such as special invitations to visit the Forest Park Forever booth at the park's annual Kite Festival and Hot Air Balloon Race. Some of these special invitations are combined with a raffle for a roundtrip flight donated by an airline to a destination of choice.

Fundraising efforts for the Restoring the Glory capital campaign are part of a joint effort between the city and Forest Park Forever to each raise $43 million dollars for improvements to the infrastructure, environment, athletic facilities and buildings in the park. For this effort, Forest Park Forever focuses on larger donors and corporations.

One particularly successful program is Forest Park Forever's Progress Plus program, which uses tax credits and matching grants to leverage donations up to five times the cost of a corporation's actual contribution. The first incentive for corporate gifts is the ability to earn a 50 percent state tax credit. A second incentive, a challenge grant from the Danforth Foundation, designed to expand corporate philanthropy beyond the usual donors, stretches the corporation's gift with an additional $0.50 for every dollar contributed. For example, a contribution of $250,000, which costs a corporation $71,000 after tax deductions, can equal $375,000 for the park.

In order to qualify for the maximum Danforth Foundation contribution of $5 million, Forest Park Forever must raise $10 million from corporations that are not part of the elite 30 Civic Progress member companies. One fundraising effort as part of this campaign has entailed asking six corporations to invite 20 companies each to attend a cocktail party that featured a discussion of park restoration efforts. Two of these events have been held so far. At one of these events, a company donated the use of their helicopter for those interested in experiencing a bird's eye view of the park. By July 1999, Forest Park Forever had raised more than $37 million towards their total $43 million goal, and $8 million toward Progress Plus.

A new effort, the Forest Park Trust campaign, seeks to raise $5 million to establish an endowment for ongoing park maintenance. Relying on solicited donations from private individuals, corporations and foundations, the campaign has already raised over half of its goal. While the push to date has been on the annual and capital campaigns, it is thought that some of these annual funds will be added to the endowment in the future.

Fundraising that has an outreach component is also important. The Pennies for the Park campaign, which began with the idea of putting donation cans in schools and stores in the metro area, has taken off. Incredibly, St. Louis major downtown mall, The Galleria, has promised to match the donations in the campaign with $50,000 of its own money. 50 stores in the mall are participating in the campaign, and the mall's giant fountain generates $8,000 for the park in what is perhaps the most effortless fundraising event imaginable. More important than the money is the visibility, says Lee Anna Good, Forest Park Forever's marketing and capital campaign director, who adds that the pennies campaign builds the organization's identity and helps encourage the public to think of the park as an institution in and of itself.

2. Organizing Volunteers

Volunteers play an important role for all nonprofit organizations, often significantly building community stewardship, support, and involvement with the park. Nonprofits often organize volunteers to participate in remedial maintenance activities such as weed removal, trail and path upkeep, and park clean-up days. Volunteers also commonly help organize and staff public park events, produce and send newsletters and other organizational mailings, and solicit park donations. They can be valuable assets to the park as trained docents, providers of visitor information, education and outreach, and park security, as well as collectors of park usership information.

Organizing Volunteers Profile:

The Great Plains Trail Network Lincoln, Nebraska

Volunteers are the mainstay of the Great Plains Trail Network (GPTN), an all-volunteer organization focused on advocacy and fundraising for the acquisition and development of the Lincoln Area Trails Network in and around Lincoln, Nebraska. According to V.T. Miller, membership coordinator for the organization, the GPTN solicits volunteers during annual membership drives. On the same form as membership registration and renewal, members are asked to check off the types of activities in which they are interested in participating: speaking to groups, mailings, fundraising, or helping with events. A database of all volunteers and their areas of interest is maintained and drawn upon to organize various activities.

One of the most interesting ways that non-profits use volunteers is in gathering information about the parks or trail network. GPTN organizes volunteers annually to conduct a census of the trails at 8 to 10 different locations. GPTN not only uses the information to publicize the trail to the newspapers, but the Parks and Recreation Department, which owns and maintains the trails, makes of use the information for allocating budget resources and to find out about safety issues. Issues of safety are determined based upon information about level of trail usage, the times of day trails are most used, and the numbers of bicyclists and skaters who wear helmets.

3. Design, Planning, and Construction of Capital Projects.

Often a park has a conservancy or friends group attached to it because the park is suffering from neglect and needs to be substantially repaired. It is the role of many of our featured organizations to raise funds and organize volunteers to restore such parks, and capital projects are the main vehicle for those restoration efforts. As a result, nonprofits can get involved in any number of activities related to capital projects: from reviewing projects proposed and developed by the parks department, to contracting out design and implementation, or even to actual in-house design and construction of particular projects.

Most of the nonprofits we surveyed leave the construction of large projects to the public sector, which is usually more capable with costly projects that could overwhelm a private group (the Maymont Park Foundation and Central Park Conservancy being notable exceptions). However, some groups will manage projects every step of the way. Developing an overall vision for the park through a master plan is still another form of planning for capital projects. Whatever the case, most capital planning requires strong leadership and an effective working partnership to negotiate its inevitable complexities and elaborate decision-making process (although even a fledgling nonprofit can have a dramatic influence by virtue of its fundraising efforts and community credibility). Just over half of the organizations we reviewed were involved in capital planning.

In addition, nonprofits can make innovation in design a priority. Many parks departments, both to cut costs and to streamline operations, accept what are known as cookie cutter designs, that is, the same design over and over for different facilities. Many of the nonprofits that we are familiar with have inspired radically new design ideas, or prompted designs that are contextually fitting with a surrounding historical landscape, both by working closely with new designers, by emphasizing the ideas of residents, and by attempting to make each design specific to individual parts of the park that are being addressed.

Capital Projects Profile:

Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy

Louisville, Kentucky

The Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy was formed to take on the restoration and revitalization of Louisville's Olmsted parks, and it continues to function as a project-oriented design and planning team that focuses on the system's historic value. According to Susan Rademacher, executive director of the conservancy, there had been a complete loss of institutional memory [in the parks department] about what these Olmsted landscapes were designed to do, how to manage them, and how to provide programs that would encourage public use. On an almost daily basis, the conservancy staff rolls up its sleeves over plans that it develops jointly with the design staff of the parks department, which houses the conservancy's offices. The conservancy's scope of work includes im plementing the master plan with phased capital projects, design, overseeing and reviewing projects in all of Louisville's Olmsted parks, landscaping and restoration (often using volunteers), raising private capital dollars to supplement public money, and creating programs to attract new users.

Parks department staff usually get involved in design and project management, working under the assistant parks director, who is also the executive director of the conservancy, This interlocking relationship is enhanced by a system of checks and balances: the conservancy reviews all projects and can reject them if they don't conform to the master plan; meanwhile the parks department must approve all conservancy capital projects and programs.

One of the partnership's first projects together was the creation of a multi-use trail in Cherokee Park that would require four bridges, restoration of woodlands, and a sensitive design to fit it within the historical landscape. The pre-planning phase involved a team made up of the conservancy, parks department staff from the design, engineering and maintenance departments, as well as outside consultants in landscape architecture, ecology, engineering and historic landscapes. In an all-day meeting that included site visits, this team identified key issues and drew up a scope of work that could be bid on by sub-consultants. In the next phase, consultants presented their drawings and ideas, which the parks department and conservancy's construction committee reviewed together on a monthly basis. According to Michael Smiley, the project manager working for the parks department at the time, the department focused primarily on the maintenance and management impacts of the design, while conservancy staff concentrated more on ensuring that the design was of the highest quality, met historical and ecological objectives, and followed the master plan. Finally, a team of parks department engineers, designers and conservancy staff and board members jointly reviewed the final construction drawings presented by the consultant. Smiley explained that this collaborative team worked together almost as if it were its own organization, spending countless hours marking up plans and monitoring construction on-site to ensure that the contractors were meeting the highest construction standards. This project required extensive use of consultants in the pre-planning since it was among the first projects undertaken by the partnership upon completion of the master plan. Much of that outside expertise now has been absorbed by the staffs of the conservancy and the parks department, who now understand much more about how to design within the historic context of the Olmsted landscapes.

Since city funding is limited, the parks department funds basics like infrastructure and operations; the conservancy focuses on improving the park experience, providing a greater variety of recreation and landscapes, improving character, and doing experimental projects such as wetlands restoration.

4. Outreach and Marketing

A nonprofit has an obvious rationale for engaging in outreach and marketing. These activities can build usership, educate users, encourage stewardship, and create support whether financial, volunteer or political for the park and for park issues. This is also a common way to enhance the image and credibility of the park organization in the community. Marketing also can be used to create new relationships with other institutions through joint publicity and programming as well as promoting and increasing public involvement in park issues and development. Typical mechanisms include: direct mail and newsletters; press coverage; greeter programs; high-visibility events that help bring attention to specific park needs; and meetings with local community groups or institutions such as schools and faith-based organizations.

Outreach and Marketing Profile:

Prospect Park Alliance

Brooklyn, New York

Since 1980, when the Prospect Park Administrator's Office was created, usership in Prospect Park has grown from 1.7 million people per year to over 6 million in 1998. Tupper Thomas, the park's administrator and the president of the nonprofit Prospect Park Alliance, gives much of the credit for that shift to an approach that includes local residents in many aspects of park management, including identifying and prioritizing improvements and incubating new programs.

The alliance's strategies for increasing awareness about the park include: cross marketing with nearby institutions (the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden) to create a multipurpose destination; public information (newsletters, greeter programs, the press and direct mail); interviews with local leaders and presentations to community associations; and programs and special events that highlight the culture of specific populations.

However, the alliance's grassroots community outreach is what distinguishes it the most from other organizations. To strengthen connections with nearby neighborhoods, whose diverse populations were previously under-represented in park decision-making, a cultural anthropologist and alliance staff interviewed local leaders from different ethnic groups that were located through churches, health care centers, and educational institutions. The information helped the alliance understand cultural considerations that might open new opportunities to provide a park experience that was more relevant to these groups.

The interviews also introduced the alliance to many new community groups who were then asked to serve on a Community Committee, formed in 1997 to help develop new programs, prioritize capital improvements, and build awareness about the park. The Prospect Park Community Committee now represents more than 60 neighborhood cultural and political associations in Brooklyn. The committee is working to develop a Comprehensive Plan for the park, which will serve as the guiding document in the alliance's development over the next 10 years. According to Thomas, there are other benefits as well. When people come to the meetings, they exchange a wealth of ideas about their neighborhoods in addition to ideas about Prospect Park. It is as if parks are a safe place politically, a place where people can talk about lots of other issues. The Community Committee also very effectively talks to our elected officials about the importance of funding for all the parks in Brooklyn, she said.

Cultural programs and events also have raised the profile of the park, especially among ethnic populations that are ever more prevalent in Brooklyn, but don't necessarily frequent the park. For example, the Haitian festival drew over 2,000 members of the Haitian community to the park and brought in new Haitian volunteers and many new contacts for the Community Committee.

Park user groups are also an important constituency with which the alliance works, often to the benefit of everyone involved. For example, the alliance helped organize the park's dog walkers, who then established FIDO (Fellowship in the Interests of Dogs and their Owners), a group that now monitors all dogs in the park and makes sure they follow leash laws, but also ensures that dog issues receive fair consideration.

5. Programming

Programming can be the key difference between a well-used park and an empty one, regardless of financial support. It is also an area where the flexibility of a nonprofit can be particularly useful-some city parks departments find it hard to change programs that have been in place for long periods of time but get little use. While occasionally a nonprofit will manage recreation programs-typically thought of as being the province of the city-more often the partnership will engage in activities that compliment and enhance the programs already provided by the city.

Nonprofit programming activities are often broad in scope, focusing on environmental issues and education, theater and arts festivals, recreation, after school programs, and summer day camps, to name just a few. Programs are aimed at a variety of audience ages, cultural backgrounds, and neighborhoods across the city, though youth are usually the main target. Typical programs aim toward building community stewardship, cultural and environmental awareness, interpersonal skills and team building, teach new skills, and introduce and attract visitors to underutilized areas of the park, among many other activities.

Programming Profile:

Friends of Hermann Park

Houston, Texas

Hermann Park in Houston, Texas is currently undergoing a dramatic transformation guided by the Friends of Hermann Park. As a key part of that transformation, the friends are redeveloping the Bayou Parkland, a riparian and woodland environment comprising a quarter of Hermann Park's 400 acres. However, demonstrating the Bayou Parkland's relevance to residents is complicated, in part because six-lane MacGregor Drive and a large hospital on the southwest boundary block access to and prevent parking near this interior park area. In an earlier planning study conducted by the friends, it was revealed that many residents were unaware that the Bayou Parkland is part of Hermann Park at all.

The friends understood that in order to attract users to this difficult but potential-laden site, they would first need to do two things: make structural improvements, and introduce people to the place by actually bringing them to it through programming.

Because of its mix of woodland and wetland areas, the Bayou Parkland was an obvious place for the friends to lead environmental programs. They decided on a targeted approach that basically test marketed programming elements with a group of children from seven local elementary schools. This pilot project, known as After School Adventures, was a science enhancement program for these nearby schools. Once a week, staff from Friends of Herman Park would go to a school and lead activities and field trips for students registered in the program. 406 students from the seven different schools and a women's shelter participated during the year and-a-half this program was in operation.

By watching the students go through the environmental program and then extensively surveying them, their teachers, and their parents afterward for suggestions and recommendations for improvements, the staff was able to quickly work the kinks out of the program, and come up with a series of changes to the site, including amenities, signage, and trail improvements. Experience with teachers requirements, students needs, curricula development, and transportation logistics led almost immediately to the formation of a much larger and broader program, Field Studies 101, that added a key element - it trained the teachers to run the program themselves. During six weeks in the fall of 1997, 2,656 budding naturalists and their teachers participated in Field Studies 101. Importantly, the friends evaluations have contributed directly to their ability to continue to expand the program, and raise awareness among interested users, donors, and others for the capital improvements necessary to bring in other groups, and for different activities, both active and passive.

6. Advocacy

Some of the organizations we studied sprang from older, advocacy-focused friends groups, and were established specifically to be more moderate, project-focused organizations that could partner with the city on capital improvements. In some cases it was the reverse an existing conservancy helped birth a separate, independent group that would be an advocate. If the rule is that a partner must not poison the well by criticizing another partner, that still leaves room for the nonprofit to promote more action from other city agencies (such as more police presence or road improvements) and more funding from the city or state. In fact, effective advocacy campaigns often waged in local newspapers and through media events can help legitimize both the nonprofit and the parks department in the eyes of the general public and potential funders.

Advocacy incorporates a wide range of activities, such as putting pressure on the city for increased park funding, expanding or developing new parks or greenways, preserving historical design, improving basic maintenance, and increasing playground and general park safety. Typically, as a nonprofit increases its involvement in management, it reduces its role as public advocate. Thus, many groups that share responsibilities for the park with the public sector are less involved in overt advocacy activities, finding it complicates their working relationship. They may, however, be substantially involved in advocating for parks issues behind the scenes, especially if they are successful groups and have gained political influence as a result. On the other hand, many groups with smaller operational budgets find advocacy and lobbying activities more conducive to their roles as assistance providers, because it helps them spearhead new visions and facilitate change.

A further tool used by some unincorporated groups to facilitate their advocacy activities is to partner with another nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status in order to receive tax-deductible contributions for park and trail acquisition and development. In this way, a group can raise funds, but preserves its right to actively lobby political bodies on park and trail issues and the ability to involve itself in political campaigning and support. For example, the Great Plains Trail Network has purposefully avoided obtaining 501(c)(3) status and has no formal affiliations with other park, civic groups or institutions so that it can preserve its right to actively lobby political bodies on trail issues and on behalf of trail supportive political candidates. In order to facilitate its fundraising activities, the board has arranged with the Nebraska Trails Foundation to receive contributions for trail acquisition and development. However, this practice is not without controversy, and the board is considering establishing a foundation to raise money for trail maintenance activities in the future.

Advocacy Profile:

The Knox Greenways Coalition

Knoxville, Tennessee

Established in 1992 by six conservationists, the Knox Greenways Coalition, a nonprofit grassroots citizens group, was formed to advocate for and help develop a greenway and trail system within the city and county of Knoxville. Over a period of five years, the coalition has successfully created partnerships with the city and county and integrated the idea of a large-scale greenway system into public plans and projects. Having facilitated the creation of city and county greenway coordinator positions, subsequently staffed by two founding members of the coalition, and a Mayor's Greenway Advisory Committee, the vision and plan for the greenway is now in place. With 12.8 miles built to date and 200-300 miles in different stages of planning and design, the coalition has redirected its mission to sustain pressure for continued development of the greenway. The coalition lobbies for financial and political support through its presence and active involvement in the Mayor's Greenways Advisory Committee, by representing the greenway at meetings on city issues, and through organizing planning, community, and political activities focusing on the greenway. Coalition volunteers meet with community and neighborhood groups interested in developing a portion of the greenway in their areas and help them to organize and develop actual designs. The coalition also holds a five-kilometer run fundraiser and an annual awards ceremony for elected officials, neighborhood organizers, and for people who have helped facilitate the trail through the giving of easements and/or an involvement in trail maintenance.

7. Remedial Maintenance

Many parks require a high level of maintenance, and city parks departments are typically limited in their ability to provide what is required, above a minimum standard. Therefore, parks nonprofits of all sizes organize maintenance volunteers or contract out maintenance tasks that seem to be beyond the capacity or budget of the primary caretaker. Typically, remedial maintenance work is done in response to a chronic, but critical need such as replanting, path repair, weeding, and erosion control. A seasonal clean-up day with volunteers is also a typical remedial maintenance function. Reclaiming neglected areas of the park, through community gardening or replanting, as well as repairs after storms or floods, are not beyond the scope or ability of volunteers.

Just under one third of the nonprofit organizations we reviewed are involved in remedial maintenance. All but one of these organizations was involved in routine maintenance as well. This suggests that involvement in one is easily combined with the other. The organizations from our sample group that perform remedial maintenance tasks are: The Central Park Conservancy, the Maymont Foundation, the Yakima Greenway Foundation, the Piedmont Park Conservancy, the National AIDS Memorial Grove, Friends of Buttonwood Park, and the Knox Greenways Coalition.

Remedial Maintenance Profile:

Yakima Greenway Foundation

Yakima County, Washington

The Yakima Greenway Foundation is responsible for all activities and maintenance related to the Yakima Greenway in Yakima County, Washington. The city and county do not monetarily contribute to the greenway at all. Through a partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons, who pay seniors to do small tasks for supplementary income, the Yakima Greenway Foundation gets supplemental help painting, cleaning and weeding along the greenway. In addition, the foundation uses every possible volunteer group to help out with maintenance, including the Eagle Scouts, who earn merit badges for routine maintenance tasks, like painting picnic tables and benches, and repairing flood damage. Even county work crews from local prisons are brought in to pick up trash along the greenway.

8. Routine Maintenance

Many nonprofits decide to leave routine maintenance to the public sector, taking on responsibilities for other activities that will free up parks departments to better accomplish the task. Only about a third of the groups we studied currently do routine maintenance, other groups being loath to give the public sector an opportunity to relinquish their traditional responsibility for basic service and, at the same time, not having the staff and equipment to carry the responsibility.

On the other hand, routine maintenance is often where public funding shortfalls are most obvious. While most nonprofits choose not to tackle this activity at the start, many state that they will at least consider taking it on sometime in the future. Reasons for this change down the road include the desire for more autonomy, the ability to more quickly respond to this need, and better overall coordination if one entity is responsible for management of the whole park.

Routine maintenance activities include day-to-day tree and lawn care, litter removal, small repairs and painting. While many routine maintenance activities are well within the capability of a friends group and trained volunteers, it is still most common for nonprofit involvement in routine maintenance to be supplemental to what is primarily the parks department's responsibility. Examples of nonprofit park groups that actually take primary responsibility for routine maintenance are the Central Park Conservancy and the Maymont Foundation well-funded and staffed partners that have negotiated considerable control over all aspects of their parks. Other examples exist in new development projects, especially greenway efforts led by nonprofits, such as the Yakima Greenway Foundation, who make new projects more attractive to the public agency by committing to do the maintenance, thereby reducing the potential additional burden on the parks department.

Routine Maintenance Profile:

The Central Park Conservancy

New York, New York

Although it has been in existence since 1980, a change in the Central Park Conservancy's management style in 1994 has helped to make dramatic improvements in the overall maintenance of Central Park. A new zone-based system replaced a decades-old tradition of maintenance crews that worked all over the park as a team an approach that discouraged accountability since work not done could not be traced to a single person in charge. Now, each of 49 zones, roughly 10 acres each, are the direct responsibility of a zone gardener whose task is not only to maintain horticultural standards, but also to remove minor graffiti, empty trash baskets, do small-scale mowing, repair benches, and address potential crime situations. When we went from a crew-based management structure to a zone-based structure, we immediately saw significant improvements in cleanliness and horticultural care throughout the park, said Doug Blonsky, the current administrator for Central Park.

"Zone-based management calls for direct accountability by an individual for his or her zone and instills a sense of pride and ownership," adds Blonsky. "Providing a uniformed presence, zone gardeners become familiar to regular park patrons and often develop relationships with them. The zone gardeners are the core of our maintenance philosophy in Central Park."

Zone gardeners are not on their own - each gardener has his or her own crew, and receives assistance from specialty crews. Park-wide specialty crews are still essential to support the zone gardeners in such areas as graffiti removal, bench repair, tree care, and turf care, says Blonsky. Although these support crews specialize in a particular maintenance area such as clearing storm sewers and drains, repairing bridges and historic structures, etc., they also help with general repairs and restoration wherever needed. Each zone gardener also manages a regular team of volunteers.

The Central Park Conservancy has a budget of approximately $7 million for horticulture, maintenance and operations. Altogether, 150 maintenance staffers take care of the park a mix of city and conservancy employees all of whom report to the administrator.

9. Security

Although safety is typically a critical need in many neglected or underused urban parks, few of the nonprofit organizations we reviewed included security as a primary activity. There are some obvious explanations for this discrepancy lack of involvement by nonprofits in security issues may be because of an inability to afford staff costs, a lack of technical training, or, more likely, a reluctance of the organization to become associated or involved with regulatory, policing or enforcement issues.

However, we would like to think that many groups did not identify security as a primary activity for their organization because, as we stated in Chapter 1, the relative safety of a public park is more dependent on its use than on any other single factor. Therefore, security measures such as hiring rangers to patrol an area, can contribute to an overall strategy for bringing people back into a park but it is a small part of the security equation. Access, visibility, appearance, and use are all more important factors. Simply by working on their main mission encouraging use of a public park, all groups are involved in promoting security.

However, some nonprofit park management organizations do provide a measure of official security for park users. These activities may take the form of volunteer rangers who function very much like a neighborhood watch patrol or professional security staff, responsible for policing the grounds and enforcing regulations themselves. Although only two of the organizations we interviewed are currently involved in security provision as a primary part of their organizational activities, a few additional organizations in our case study pool indicated that they expected to increase their involvement in park security within the next five years.

Security Profile:

Piedmont Park Conservancy

Atlanta, Georgia

In 1998, the Piedmont Park Conservancy conducted a market survey7 that revealed that safety in the park was a big concern among the public. To address the issue, the conservancy initiated the Ambassador Program, which, in its first year, trained four part-time seasonal staff to greet visitors and report incidents, via walkie-talkie, to a city-contracted park security guard who had been employed for years to monitor illegal parking, but was unable to address other problems since he was tied to his guard post. The conservancy feels the program has contributed enormously to the public's perception of safety, since ambassadors are a more mobile and visible patrol.

The ambassador program was modeled on the Atlanta Downtown Ambassador Force, formed during the Olympics to enhance the feeling of safety among tourists. The conservancy trains ambassadors in the history of the park, while the police department trains them in radio usage and polite interactions with the public. Common issues the ambassadors confront are illegal parking, vendors selling without a license, off-leash dogs, and issues such as broken tree limbs. In most cases, the ambassadors can explain to offenders how they are breaking the rules of the park (they also hand out a card listing the park rules) and ask them to comply. The guard is enlisted only if a person refuses to comply, or in cases where professional expertise is advisable. Only in very rare instances would an ambassador contact the police directly the police have no continuous presence in the park, but send in occasional cycle patrols.

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