Roundtable Event Benefits Local Park and Trail Friends Groups

Of all types of greenspace, municipal and county parks reach the greatest and most diverse audience. Capital Region municipal parks range from neighborhood playgrounds to nineteenth century Olmsted-era parks to linear parks (trails) connecting one community to another. All of these community greenspaces contribute to public health, quality of life, and economic viability. However, local parks are often neglected and underfunded by municipalities, especially in underserved areas.

Fortunately, in many instances, local residents have banded together to form park Friends groups to be advocates and fundraisers for their parks, as well as to perform actual maintenance, improvement, and programming functions.

In the Capital Region, more than 50 parks and trails have affiliated “Friends” groups. These groups are comprised of a relatively small number of dedicated individuals, mostly volunteers, who accomplish essential things. However, Friends groups have little communication with each other and need assistance to unlock their potential to maintain, improve, and promote their parks.

Thanks to a grant from the Bender Foundation, Parks & Trails New York has been able to expand our scope of work to provide support to Capital Regions local Friends groups. The first step was to conduct a survey to gather baseline organizational data and help identify training and other needs. Based on the survey results, it was evident that the groups were looking for networking and peer learning opportunities. We also discovered that nearly 700 individuals volunteer with these local Friends groups and most of their projects are park clean up events and community events, which illustrates that strengthening Capital Region park friends groups will result in stronger community fabric.

Parks & Trails New York organized and hosted a round table and networking event for municipal Friends groups in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties. The event took place on October 16 in Albany and we had 20 attendees from 15 different groups in the Capital District.

The round table focused on networking, tips, and tools to strengthen their programs, enhance public health, and increase park and trail usage. It was a great event with lots of information sharing and networking. Participants learned some best practices for engaging their boards, volunteers and members with a presentation from the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON). There was lots of peer learning and group discussions. Participants from local parks, land trusts, and open spaces took away an abundance of ideas, solutions, and information to bring back to their boards, members, and/or volunteers.

Strengthening Capital Region park friends groups will result in stronger community fabric, particularly in underserved parts of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. It will also enhance public health in underserved areas as parks are improved and usage grows.