How would you define and measure the quality of our Vashon Park District’s parks and recreational programming? What metrics would you use? Numerous studies across the U.S. have shown that park districts provide great benefit to their communities based on similar metrics (e.g., activities for children).
The Vashon Park District (VPD) provides considerable value to the Vashon community. Although you may not utilize the parks or recreational programs, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your neighbors and members of your community most likely do. VPD facilities are used by all kinds of people. Often users are unaware that they are using VPD resources.
As the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) research has shown, parks and recreation have three values that make them essential services to communities:
1. Economic value
2. Health and environmental benefits
3. Social importance
Just as water, sewer and public safety are considered essential public services, parks are vitally important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life on Vashon. Parks and recreational programs contribute to the economic and environmental well-being of our community.
Communities that pride themselves on their quality of life, promote themselves as a desirable location for residents and visitors, and maintain that they are environmental stewards of their natural resources, believe in a robust, active system of parks and recreation programs for public use and enjoyment.
The list of parks and recreational programs currently offered by VPD is extensive: swimming in the year-round pool including classes and open swim times, youth field sports, adult field sports, a skate park, beach access, the Ober Park playground, fitness classes, accommodation at two historically significant houses (Fern Cove and the Keepers’ Quarters at Point Robinson), the lighthouse at Point Robinson, Tramp Harbor, Lisabeula, the farmer’s market use of our land and concerts in the park. In addition, the VPD publishes a guide to the island’s trails and rents out space for events, such as the presentation on pesticides by the University of Washington. Many of these offerings require substantial maintenance and ongoing improvements (e.g., fixing large potholes at Agren Memorial Park). Grants that we apply for and receive funding from can certainly help, but grants alone cannot sustain the VPD. Grants are also often very specific. For instance, there are grants available that could cover the costs of repairing part of Fern Cove cottage, but would not cover repairs on the foundation.
The VPD identified two underserved populations on our island: the senior population and the special needs population. Plans are underway to help meet the needs of these groups, including an upgrade to Ober Park to allow access for the special needs and senior population. The project is called “The Playground for All”. The plan is to replace much of the children’s playground equipment and to provide ADA-compliant access, add exercise stations for senior adults and provide a circular walk.
VPD is one of the thousands of park and recreational programs across the USA which are a tangible reflection of the quality of life in a community. They provide an identity for citizens and are a source of community pride. Parks and recreation services are often cited in surveys as one of the most important factors in determining the livability of a community.
The power of parks is that they transcend age, ethnicity, race, income, politics and geography. You know the park is working if you show up on a Sunday, or better yet any day, and see people on bikes or on foot enjoying park facilities, playing ball, having a picnic at the beach and bird watchers enjoying Tramp Harbor. …
The park commissioners would be delighted to hear from you, our community, about the values you believe the VPD currently brings and any additional values you would like to see incorporated in the VPD.
—Karen M. Gardner is a park commissioner for the Vashon Park District.