Director Exits, Reflecting on His Legacy

(By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Q What, in your opinion, were the major accomplishments of the Park Authority under your leadership? Getting more people into the parks? Making parks more accessible? Something else?

A There were several major accomplishments. . . . These included the opening of Cub Run RECenter in 2005. This was the first new RECenter built in 17 years, and we did it right. The building is state of the art, and we really needed this facility in the western part of the county.

I am also very proud of the completion of the Cross County Trail that essentially runs from the Potomac River in the north to the Occoquan in the south. It's just about 41 miles and a wonderful asset for the county. Our studies show that citizens love our trails -- they are the top amenity cited for use, and I was thrilled to be part of the team that brought this from concept to reality.

I also have to mention the preservation of the Salona property in McLean. It's the last sizable parcel of open space in the area, and through creative financing and a conservation easement we were able to protect the natural and cultural resources on that site forever. The whole team -- supervisors, park board, landowner and our staff -- came together on that one and made it happen.

We have been exceptionally successful with land acquisition issues. In fact, over the past five years, we have accumulated more than 6,000 additional acres and now own nearly 24,000 acres. That is a big deal in a rapidly urbanizing community. We are the stewards and protectors of these open spaces that will be preserved for our children and their children as well.

And I really feel that the completion of Laurel Hill Golf Club, our jewel located in the southern portion of the county [Lorton], is a tremendous new asset for our citizens. It took a partnership between the schools and the Board of Supervisors and the Park Authority Board to get that project completed. Now we have a renowned new course that preserves the historic [view] and preserves the natural landscape and native plants. It's a project we can feel very proud of.

I know that planning for the future can be a rather dry topic, but we were the first county-affiliated agency to create a strategic plan based on a balanced-scorecard approach. This plan forces us to establish real goals and sets specific measures for success. It's government being accountable, and I am pleased that we created and adopted this plan in 2006.

Can you name some specific Park Authority projects that you hope will stand as your legacy?

Specific items would include creating a skilled workforce that is prepared for a succession of challenges in the future. We have provided training opportunities, and we are growing our leadership from within. And I would also like to mention our support of the Park Foundation. I have had a hand in nurturing this fledgling nonprofit organization that supports our parks, and already they have been able to raise their first $1 million. That figure will seem insignificant in the future if they continue to prosper.

What are the greatest challenges facing your successor?

My successor will need to find a way to secure funding for the park services and new programs. While we have a tremendous amount of support . . . the fiscal realities will make growing existing services that much harder. Partnerships and entrepreneurial thinking need to become a way of life at the Park Authority.

Whoever follows in my footsteps also needs to work toward ensuring that this system continues to be among the best in the nation.

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