Learning to Better Engage Local Communities

October 31, 2018

Over the past few weeks, Coalition staffers attended several unique conferences around Washington, and came back inspired by the efforts they saw to encourage and deepen community engagement in outdoor recreation projects.

One key theme that we encountered at each conference was engagement. In particular, engaging all diverse segments of a local community in planning for a new park, trail, or green space—to make sure that all viewpoints are identified and included.

At the King County Regional Trails Coalition Summit, we heard about the importance of engaging diverse communities in the planning process from the very beginning. Attendees spoke about the need to increase the trail accessibility and the demand for more multi-use trails. Hearing from a variety of communities at the Summit—from trail users to underserved communities to communities of color—will help King County (a valued Coalition member!) better plan, communicate, and promote its regional trails system for the benefit of all.

The following week at the Washington State Trails Coalition Conference, we were introduced to a grassroots organization called Wenatchee Valley TREAD (Trails, Recreation, Education, Advocacy, and Development). TREAD’s goal is to bring all outdoor recreation user groups together to improve the outdoor experiences and quality of life in the Wenatchee Valley. These outdoor enthusiasts recognize the value of coordination and collaboration: we are stronger together than we are apart. Unity and strength in togetherness certainly resonate with us here at the Coalition, which was built on bipartisan, cooperative partnerships. We look forward to working with TREAD going forward!

Back in Seattle, the Nature & Health Symposium reminded us that community engagement early in the process can ensure that other priorities—like health, education, public safety, and affordable housing—are also part of the solution. Speakers discussed how engaging the local community can result in parks that meet other needs like safe walking paths, after school care, and even fresh local food. As Hanaa Hamdi of The Trust for Public Land (another amazing Coalition member!) said, “parks are the connective tissue of a community.”

Fortunately, the WWRP encourages—and rewards—this sort of collaboration and community engagement. One great example of innovative community engagement is the WWRP-funded Senator Henry M. Jackson Park Renovation project in Everett. The Everett Parks and Recreation Department decided to put some of the planning into the hands of the most important stakeholders—children! To do so, low-income kids were taken on field trips to nearby parks and playgrounds and were asked to take photos of their favorite part of each park. Planners then took major themes and commonalities from the children’s pictures and incorporated them into the final park design. This unique outreach helped ensure that the renovated park met the needs of this urban community.

Robin Chiles of the Seattle YMCA’s BOLD and GOLD program summed up this concept well at the Washington Trails Coalition Conference: “You can’t do it from the office—you have to get into the community.” Here at the Coalition we agree, and look forward to helping even more communities across the state achieve their outdoor recreation visions.