Feature Article - January 2008
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A Greener Future

Recreation's Push to Address 'Nature Deficit Disorder'

By Dawn Klingensmith

The Bottom Line

With an annual budget exceeding $385 million, the Chicago Park District has the luxury, perhaps, of focusing on the non-monetary rewards of offering environmental education. "If you help people develop an appreciation for a park, if you encourage them to see it in a new way, they'll utilize it more and take care of it," said Peggy Stewart, the district's manager of outdoor and environmental education. "You're developing the next generation of stewards of your local parks, which from my perspective is priceless."

Other parks and recreation departments take a more pecuniary approach born of necessity. When the town of Brookline, Mass., agreed to match grant funding awarded to its recreation department over two years for the development of environmental education programs, it did so with the expectation that fee-based programs would be self-sustaining after the two-year period.

The Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia takes a business-minded approach, as well. "In order to keep offering quality programs led by trained, qualified interpreters, you need to be able to drive some revenue from them," said Judy Pedersen, the park authority's public information officer.

Themed birthday parties with an environmental education component can be counted on to generate revenue or break even depending on how many favors the facility provides. And summer camps are money-makers because there's always a need for childcare in the summer, she said.

An annual festival and ongoing adult-education programs, such as gardening classes, offered jointly through the University of Utah are reliable revenue generators for Red Butte Garden, Newman said.