Guest Blog: City Parks Create Important Foundation for Youth

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We are proud to be members of the City Parks Alliance, which supports the creation, revitalization and sustainability of urban parks and green spaces. Today, we’re happy to have Catherine Nagel, executive director at the City Parks Alliance, as our guest blogger discussing Greater & Greener 2017, which is being hosted in the Twin Cities July 29 through Aug. 2.

As more people are moving back to urban areas, the importance of close-to-home parks is increasing–perhaps most for children. For those who don’t have a backyard to play in, the local park serves myriad functions: a portal to experiencing the natural world, a community hub where families and neighbors get to know each other, and a place for outdoor learning to help build skills of all kinds through organized activities. But beyond their role in recreation and social well-being, city parks also help grow local economies, create new transportation options, combat crime, and reduce environmental impacts such as storm water runoff. Urban planners, elected officials and community advocates recognize these benefits and are taking a fresh look at parks as an important part of civic infrastructure.

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Engaging youth in the outdoors can unleash their curiosity about nature, build confidence, and strengthen leadership skills, ultimately supporting careers in the sciences, recreation, conservation and elsewhere. Urban parks and park and recreation agencies are rich with opportunity to empower youth and help them succeed. At Greater & Greener 2017, our International Urban Parks Conference, we have created an entire track dedicated to the Parks and Youth Development. Speakers will focus on parks and programs that are providing close-to-home camping experiences, supporting new kinds of outdoor recreation, building literacy, strengthening advocacy around environmental and social change, and offering “green” job training and employment in the parks and recreation profession and related fields.

To help Greater & Greener, hosted by the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, have a lasting impact beyond the sessions and knowledge sharing, Landscape Structures is sponsoring a Playground Build Volunteer Day to help kick off the conference. The brand new playstructure will be built in Central Village Park in Saint Paul, Minn., giving the community a place to recreate, socialize, and for the youth in the community to be #shapedbyplay!

CPA_resizedLandscape Structures is also sponsoring The Mayors Forum at Greater & Greener, which will explore with city leaders what it means to create equitable cities and what role public spaces play in building inclusive, vibrant, and sustainable communities. Speakers include: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Next City’s President, CEO and Publisher Tom Dallessio will moderate. Check out the full agenda with tours, field trips and sessions on youth engagement and register now.

Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. The full benefits of parks in urban communities are only now being fully understood and measured. For most Americans, their closest park is a city park, and city parks provide an essential foundation that supports the next generation to grow and thrive–from childhood to adulthood.

Shape kids’ lives with play

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Play shapes us. We believe this wholeheartedly at Landscape Structures, and that why we’ve launched the Shaped by Play Scholarship. The scholarships, available in amounts between $250 and $3,000, are for kids to use for camps, sports clinics, piano lessons, art classes and more… activities that will help build the leaders of tomorrow through play.

Eligible applicants* will be elementary, middle or high school students, and they must be nominated by a Kiwanis member, parks and recreation professional, or a school principal. Nominate kids in your community at playlsi.com/shapedbyplay.

We are now accepting applications for the Shaped by Play Scholarship, and the program will follow the below timeline:

  • June 1 – July 31: Application period
  • Aug. 7 – 18: Application review by external judges
  • Aug. 31: Winners announcement

Contact your local playground consultant with any questions about the Scholarship. In the meantime, find inspiration for your nomination by watching our video that brings the WHY of what we do to life.

*The Shaped by Play Scholarship is open to residents of the U.S. or Canada. Employees of Landscape Structures, Aquatix by Landscape Structures and rep organizations, and members of their immediate families are not eligible to participate and win.

Case Study: Creating lasting relationships with play and recreation

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Client: City of Jonesboro Parks & Recreation Department

Designers: Sheri Seminary, playground designer at Landscape Structures Inc.

Goal: Create a Miracle League recreation complex that could act as a showcase for all other Miracle Leagues

Solution: Their vision came to life as a 20-acre recreation complex complete with a rubberized ball field for children and adults with special needs, an inclusive playground, a concession stand, restrooms and a quiet room designed especially for children with autism. The inclusive playground focuses on access and offering sensory-stimulating activities including the Sensory Play Center®, OmniSpin® spinner, Roller Table, We-Saw™ and Sway Fun® glider. Even more, the playground integrates lots of shade right into the playstructure.

Read more about how the City of Jonesboro brought their community together through inclusive recreation at the Jonesboro Miracle League Park.

Case Study: Connecting Community Members of All Abilities

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Client: Government of Durango and Integral Development of the Family (DIF), Durango, Mexico

Designers: Pat Tacheny, playground designer at Landscape Structures, and Christine Brey, custom playground designer at Landscape Structures

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Goal: In addition to creating a recreation space for the community to socialize and be active, another goal of the park revitalization was to create an inclusive space to welcome individuals of all abilities. The inclusive playground design includes an extensive ramping system, activity panels and playground components to deliver various sensory experiences. Plus, a playground bridge was personalized to mimic the famous Baluarte Bridge. The real bridge connects the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Northern Mexico, while the playground bridge encourages kids of all abilities to connect with each other.

Visit playlsi.com to read more about how the Government of Durango and DIF designed a play environment to help create an inclusive society.

Case Study: Creating an inclusive recreation destination

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Client: City of Ankeny Parks and Recreation department, Ankeny, Iowa

Designers: Outdoor Recreation Products and Gabriel Cotten, Landscape Structures playground designer

Goal: Create an inclusive destination to welcome children and families of all abilities

Solution: To create an inclusive play environment, a PlayBooster® playstructure with an extensive ramping system was installed. The ramps allow kids using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to get to the highest levels on the playground, and there are playground activities like the Rollerslide and Sway Fun® glider along the way. Set apart from the main playstructures are even more opportunities for inclusive play. And to tie in with the nearby Miracle League baseball field, custom baseball roofs were included.

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Visit playlsi.com to read more about how the City of Ankeny Parks and Recreation department partnered with community organizations to bring a unique recreation experience to the kid of Ankeny as well as surrounding communities.

ROCKing in Las Vegas

At the National Recreation & Park Association’s Annual Conference earlier this week in Las Vegas, we ROCKED the exhibit hall! Our booth space featured The Canyon Collection™ and a customized Netplex™ in our new colors, plus we had rock star cardboard cutouts, root beer kegs and Pop Rocks.

The Canyon Collection™ helped us ROCK the exhibit hall at NRPA.

Visits to our booth were met with our nature-inspired climbers, which enticed many to test out their rock-climbing skills. All that play combined with Pop Rocks took attendees back to days from their youth! On Tuesday night, we rocked the Exhibit Hall Reception with karaoke, margaritas in light-up glasses and lots of photo ops. It was so much fun, Elvis even stopped by to sing!

From nature-inspired climbers to Elvis, Las Vegas didn't disappoint.

We had a great time in Las Vegas visiting with park and recreation professionals, hearing from industry experts and taking in all that the city has to offer. Our employees and playground consultants are already looking forward to the 2016 NRPA Annual Conference in St. Louis!

Meet the professional: Michael Hecker

Michael Hecker, CPRP, parks and recreation director for the City of Elk River, Minn.We are honored to work with parks and recreation professionals around the world, and we’re constantly learning about fun and unique projects, obstacles faced and innovative solutions that they create to overcome challenges. This week, meet Michael Hecker, CPRP, parks and recreation director for the City of Elk River, Minn.

Q: How long have you been involved in the parks and recreation industry?
A: I’ve been in a department head/director role in parks and recreation for more than 20 years.
After I finished my master’s degree in recreation administration at Indiana University, I took my first position in the parks and recreation field in Connecticut. From there, I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska; moved to Mason, Ohio, for 11 years; and now I’ve been in Elk River for nearly two and a half years.

Q: What have been some of your favorite initiatives to tackle since moving into parks and recreation?
A: In cities where I worked in the past, we created destination parks where families could gather for entire afternoons. And that was one of the things that needed to happen here in Elk River. We have many small neighborhood playgrounds, but there really wasn’t a destination playground where families could gather for hours of play and enjoyment. Orono Park was more than 25-years-old, so we were ready to replace it. We started saving money to invest into the park renovation, and the community jumped on board. Orono Park has become our destination playground and has been really successful. Families from all over come to visit Elk River.

Orono Park, Elk River, Minn.

Orono Park, Elk River, Minn.

Another really important initiative that the City of Elk River is working on currently is our parks and recreation master plan. We get a lot of requests from community members—whether it’s for programming, facilities, park amenities—and this master plan will help us determine priorities when it comes to future park improvements.

We’ve surveyed community members and held public forums to hear from our residents so that we understand what’s important to them. From there, we’ll put it into a plan so that we can easily illustrate to tax payers how we’re spending their dollars. The planning process is underway now, and we hope to have it completed by fall 2014.

Q: What has been an exciting change you’ve seen in the industry?
A: One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the industry is that organizations have to work together to be successful. We partner with lots of youth organizations to offer different programming options—the city provides the space and they deliver the program. While this has been an ongoing effort for many sports organizations, a new trend we’re seeing is that the youth organizations are offering scholarships to make participation more affordable for citizens.

Another aspect of partnerships in the parks and recreation industry is land acquisition. There is a prized property along the Mississippi River in Elk River that was assessed at more than $3 million. The City didn’t have dollars earmarked for the purchase of that land, but we were able to find funding by collaborating with the Conservation Fund, an American environmental non-profit with a dual charter to pursue environmental preservation and economic development, and other agencies within Minneapolis.

It’s important to create partnerships in this industry, and it’s more difficult to be successful if you don’t have them.

Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I’ve got a wife and five children, so I really enjoy spending time with them. My wife is from Idaho, so we enjoy driving out west to visit family. During those trips, we like to make stops at local and National Parks—one of our favorites is camping in Yellowstone National Park. We also like rollercoasters. When we lived in Ohio, we went to Kings Island near Cincinnati, which has The Beast, the world’s longest, wooden rollercoaster.ElkRIver_ElkLogo_blog

Another hobby that I’ve gotten into is digital scrapbooking. We take lots of photos on our trips, so I take them and put them into a movie/slide show for us to look back on.

Learn more about Michael and his work at the City of Elk River at www.ElkRiverMN.gov/parksandrec.