Just arrived in South Dakota!

On my last trip to South Dakota, I met up with my friend Van (far left), who came to the U.S. from Vietnam for a summer and got a job as a hotel housekeeper near Mount Rushmore. She and her roommates were pretty over the attraction of the monument by the time I arrived in late July, but I was absolutely thrilled to be there. "These are MY presidents!" I kept exclaiming. "This is MY mountain!"

On my last trip to South Dakota, I met up with my friend Van (far left), who came to the U.S. from Vietnam for a summer and got a job as a hotel housekeeper near Mount Rushmore. She and her roommates were pretty over the attraction of the monument by the time I arrived in late July, but I was absolutely thrilled to be there. “These are MY presidents!” I kept exclaiming. “This is MY mountain!”

A few months ago, I received a totally out-of-the-blue email from a PR person representing the secretary of tourism for South Dakota, and she said that he would be traveling to D.C. and wanted to meet with me. Since the other editors of Parks & Recreation Magazine departed last year, one change I’ve tried to make in the magazine is to give more even coverage of park and recreation departments across the nation. For example, we cover northern Virginia and New York City and California parks all the time, but I can’t remember a single article we’ve done on a park in Arkansas since I started. South Dakota has also been poorly covered, so I jumped at the chance to meet with this guy and talk about some possibilities. Continue reading

Categories: Adventure, Parks, Travel | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Who Owns the Forests? Mountain Bike Trail Riders and Park Pros Weigh In

Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on June 19, 2014.


Mountain bikers and park agencies often butt heads over illegally built trail systems, but some have found ways to collaborate and create exciting networks available to all. Photo: International Mountain Bicycling Association.

When I began my research for the feature article on collaboratively built mountain biking trails  for the June issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine, I started out by watching Pedal-Driven, a 2011 documentary that looks at both sides of the debate surrounding illegal mountain bike trail building in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests near Leavenworth, Washington. There, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 4 million acres along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, and in recent years, the land has been inundated with problems due to illegal trail building by mountain bikers in the area.

It’s a dilemma that public land managers see every day, and it gets to the heart of the preservation vs. conservation debate. Is it better to preserve publicly-owned lands for the future and make them inaccessible to humans who might harm them, or should we open them up to the public, accept the reality of human impacts on the landscape but nurture the next generation of environmental stewards? Also, what should be the role of government in the protection of publicly-owned lands, and what right does the government have to ban citizens from enjoying lands that they collectively own? Continue reading

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Taboo Topic: Homeless in the Park

Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on January 22, 2014.

Taboo Topic: Homeless in the Park

It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but homeless people often do cause a major problem for parks and the people who staff them. Although many cities focus on hiding or removing the homeless from public view, others have taken a more compassionate approach to help people in this situation instead of focusing primarily on the image of their city.

The January cover story about homelessness in parks, “Out of the Shadows,” is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time. At both the 2012 and 2013 NRPA Congresses, I attended education sessions on homelessness presented by Sara Lamnin, and in each, I hoped to gather some stories from other attendees of successful programs that park agencies have implemented to work with the homeless people living in their parks.

At the beginning of each session, the presenter asked attendees what they wanted to get out of their time, and many people talked in soft, politically correct terms about compassionate solutions and providing resources for assistance. One woman was more blunt. “I just want them out,” she said. “I want to know what legal backing I have for removing people who illegally set up camp in parks we spend a lot of time developing and maintaining.” By the general murmurs around the room, I gathered that many other people there felt the same but hadn’t been bold enough to speak as openly.

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Connecting Seniors to Parks and Rec

Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on December 17, 2013.

Aunt Mary didn't let age stop her from being one of the most active people I knew.

Aunt Mary didn’t let age stop her from being one of the most active people I knew.

December’s cover story by John Crompton focused on the evolving lifestyle and financial factors motivating today’s seniors toward recreation, and as I worked on editing this article and incorporating it into the rest of the magazine, it occurred to me that the seniors in my life have really found a wide range of ways to stay active and well. There are a bunch of stereotypes surrounding recreation for people of a certain age (water aerobics, anyone?), but the seniors I’ve known don’t fit that mold at all.

My great aunt Mary passed away last year at age 81, and until shortly before her death, I don’t think it ever occurred to her to consider age a reason to slow down or not do something she wanted to do. When she was about 60, I remember her trying to teach me how to “skin the cat” (grab a horizontal bar, lift your legs off the ground and do a backwards aerial somersault, flipping your legs between your head and the bar before landing back on the ground). She had recently undergone cancer treatments and didn’t have the strength she previously had, and I remember her being absolutely baffled that she wasn’t able to lift her feet off the ground. As a vibrant single living independently in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she walked the 20 blocks to and from church multiple times a week and considered anything in that radius to be her “neighborhood” and therefore too close to bother taking the subway or a cab. Even into her 70s, I often had trouble keeping up with her.

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It May Be Over, But the Federal Government Shutdown Could Affect You

Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on October 16, 2013.

deal may be struck and the shutdown may nearly be over (or at least temporarily held off until early 2014), but after the federal government shut down more than two weeks ago, one of the loudest frustrations from the public was the closing of our national parks. The average American might not feel the immediate sting of many government offices closing down, but with an October average of 715,000 visitors per day to the 401 National Park Service (NPS) sites, it’s no surprise that the loss of access to these public lands caused a major uproar. According to the Department of the Interior’s contingency plan published on September 26, 21,379 of the current 24,645 NPS employees were expected to be furloughed in the event of a shutdown.

Fortunately for park professionals like you as well as the public, state and local parks aren’t under the financial umbrella of the federal shutdown. However, this event still has the potential to affect you, as past federal shutdowns have caused some state agencies to step in to keep services coming.  In fact, just this week a few states stepped in to temporarily open some of the national parks, footing the bill themselves, as detailed in this Associated Press news story.  In addition, past shutdowns on the state and local levels have forced furloughs of thousands of park employees as well.

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