On July 19, 2019 Pennsylvania celebrated its first ever Park and Recreation Professionals Day. To mark the occasion, events were held across the state, including at Orchard Park in State College where Centre Region Parks & Recreation acknowledged the hard work of its employees.
Michael Pipe, Centre County Commissioner, spoke at the gathering, emphasizing that park and recreation is about much more than just the physical spaces.
“We’re hearing from our citizens more and more that they want areas and spaces where they can relax with family…and find peace, quiet and enjoyment,” he says. “The enjoyment level of parks is phenomenal, but really it’s all about community impact and community improvement.”
Earlier this year, the state legislature passed resolutions to make Park and Recreation Professionals Day official; the governor’s office also made a proclamation, encouraging Pennsylvanians to get outside, appreciate their public spaces, and acknowledge the people who make them possible.
“What we hope to accomplish with [this day] is to elevate the awareness of the profession,” says Tim Herd, CEO of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society (PRPS). “As more people come to regard its importance — not only to their personal lives but to their communities — that will in turn influence decision makers.”
What I’ve discovered as a Parks professional is that the mantra is true: Parks really are for everyone.Kathi Muller, Certified Park & Recreation Professional
Despite being the 33rd largest state, Pennsylvania’s state park land is only surpassed by Alaska and California. And the professionals maintaining these spaces often go unheralded, working behind the scenes to make over 6,000 community parks and over 12,000 miles of trails clean, safe, and inclusive.
In their work, park and recreation professionals uphold the National Recreation and Park Association’s “Three Pillars”: Health and Wellness, Social Equity, and Conservation.
Health and Wellness
Those who choose the profession tend to share a love for the outdoors, a sense of duty and a passion for their community. Additionally, they have each other’s backs.
“The support system and network of professionals has been instrumental in my career success,” explains Kathi Muller, a lifetime parks and recreation professional in Philadelphia. “In addition to PRPS offering workshops and things like that, having those peers you can reach out to has really been helpful.”
Muller, a lifetime outdoorswoman, has held just about every post in the field — as a lifeguard, ice-rink attendant, after-school events coordinator and district manager, she has seen local parks and recreation improve lives at every level. During her career in Philadelphia, Muller’s initiatives have included winter coat drives, summertime swimming lessons, and providing nutritious lunches to children.
Now as the Inclusion Committee Chair of the PRPS, her job is to make Parks and Recreation facilities and programs available to all. Meanwhile on the other side of the state, Heather Sage and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are working towards the same goal.
“What I’ve discovered as a Parks professional is that the mantra is true: Parks really are for everyone,” says Sage. “It’s an experience available for you no matter what you like to do. I think that the people that I work with enjoy people and enjoy interacting with other people. The diversity of parks reflects the diversity of our people that work in the profession.”
As Director of Community Projects, Sage helps organize events for children and adults, including Tai Chi, yoga, adopt-a-park programs and conservation groups. The Conservancy is active in 22 local parks — Sage and the other 37 employees work to instill social equity and teach environmental responsibility while getting people outside and active.
The Wildlands Conservancy in the Lehigh Valley shares a similar mission with its Pittsburgh counterpart. As Vice President of Education, Scott Cope’s domain is outdoor experiences that are as fun as they are educational. Hands-on volunteer restoration projects, meteor shower campouts, and bike and boat tours are among the programs offered to promote environmental stewardship and education.
“Everyone is on the ladder of engagement,” he explains. “We try to move them up somehow, someway, to become stewards of the environment.”
Cope sees the impact of this work every day.
“People in today’s society have a much better appreciation and intent to protect the environment for themselves and for future generations,” he says. “You have people who aren’t in the environmental profession but still have that loyalty, dedication and determination to protect it.”
The work done by people like Kathi Muller, Heather Sage and Scott Cope — nearly 8,000 of them across the state — is why Pennsylvania now celebrates Park and Recreation Professionals Day.