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Feature Article - October 2008

Winter Wonderlands

Tips for the Off-Season

By Jessica Royer Ocken


P

arks, recreation areas and golf courses are, of course, buzzing beehives of summertime activity, but what happens when the weather cools down and snow blankets the grounds? Is your facility taking a four-to-six-month break from organized activity (not to mention revenue)?

Although many parks scale back staff and send the maintenance team on extended vacation for the winter, it may be worth re-examining this strategy to make sure the community has the most opportunities to enjoy your facility's fine features. The world is a whole different place in the wintertime, and it certainly wouldn't hurt any of us to get out and enjoy it a little more often. Making the park or recreation area in your community into an all-season activity center may be simpler than you think.

Benefits

Need some convincing that keeping busy would be better than a long winter's nap? Here's what those around the country already in all-season mode have to say:

A full year of programming helps outdoor areas fulfill their mission: "The mission of the park district is to promote environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural-resources-based park system," said Tom Knisely, media relations specialist with Three Rivers Park District in Plymouth, Minn. "We never take time off from that mission. So given that Minnesota winters can be long, we promote a lot of winter recreation to fulfill our mission 12 months a year."

Winter activity brings in added revenue: "We're open year round, seven days a week," said Abbey Harkrader, park ranger at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper's Ferry, Iowa. "There are days with no visitors in the winter, so having some events is key to making sure we have [adequate] visitation."

You get more use out of your grounds and facilities: "I live in our community, and there's a perception that the golf course is just for golfers," said Barb Bilz, assistant director of Amherst Leisure Services (the parks and recreation department for Amherst, Mass.), which includes Cherry Hill Golf Course. "We're working to change that and to expose more of our community members to the fantastic resource we have, so we're expanding into winter [with non-golf activities like sledding and bird watching on the golf course grounds]. And the added revenue also helps," she said.

You can reach out to broader constituencies with cold-weather fun: "More and more families are traveling together with multiple generations, or groups of friends are traveling together," said Kirstin Cattell, communications manager at Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort in Truckee, Calif. "Not everyone is an alpine snow-sporter, so they're looking for ways to enjoy the outdoors beyond alpine skiing and snowboarding." In response, the resort has added ice skating, making s'mores in the village, trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and other indoor and outdoor activities to be sure there's something for everyone.

Winter fun is a great way to reward your core patrons—kids and families: "Families are looking for ways to get kids outside in the cold months," said Caroline O'Boyle, director of environment, culture and special events for the Chicago Park District. "I attribute a lot of the popularity of our Polar Adventure Days to the restlessness that sets in. I can see gratitude in the eyes of parents when we provide an outdoor destination. We've been out there when it's been brutally cold, and people bundle up and come."