Where is the Washington area's industry headed? Can it maintain its level as one of the national leaders in municipal leisure-time activities?
The answer: a guarded yes.
Guarded because the national recreation industry, although it already is the nation's largest single industry with outlays of $160 billion anually, is still in the growing stages, especially in the public sector.
Good programs and facilities take money to run and there is evidence that inflation is making it harder for Washington-area jurisdictions to cope with the emergence of the leisure ethic and its accompanying demands. For example:
Prince George's County suffered a $2 million a budget loss for fiscal 1978.
The town of Vienna, Va., declined to increase its parks and recreation budget for the first time in 11 years.
Arlington County, whose recreation philosphy is to provide as much in the way of free services as possible, has not had a budget increase in two years, despite inflationary pressures.
Montogomery County, which is facilities poor in recreation, has cut back on services rather than increase fees, especially in its sports leagues.
Nationwide - and this area is no different - when countries and municipalities start slashing budgets, recreation and parks are the first things cut.
Area jurisdictions are faced with two major problems: finding operating capital other than tax money and avoiding the knife at budget cutting time.
Part of the revenue problem can be solved within the governmental structure itself, as Arlington is doing, through the amalgamation of similar services and by building facilities that can provide other services and substantially reduce maintenance costs.
On July 1, the already modernized Department of Environmental Affairs, which included countywide planning in addition to parks and recreation, became even broader in scope when it became the Department of Community Services. It took on departments of consumer affairs, inspection services and the extension service.
"All these services are citizen-oriented," said Bill Hughes, the community affairs director. "It's a one-top service concept."
It also means that current operating expenses, with proper administration, can be channeled into services instead of overhead - a costly ill of fragmentation.
In Arlington this is important because the county's showcase community center complex, Thomas Jefferson, was open 27 weekends in fiscal year 1977 and is scheduled to be open only 28 weekends in 1978.
In addition, Arlington is a leader in combining services of different departments under the same roof, thereby reducing maintenance and energy costs. A new Arlington facility, Aurora Hills, will house a recreation community center, a large branch library, a fire department, a visitors' center and air-monitoring station.
Once again, the county has an opportunity to channel operating costs into services.
The major sources of non-tax revenues for area jurisdictions is fees, a subject that stirs controversy within the public segment of the recreation industry itself. The older departments, such as Arlington, are free-service oriented. The newer ones, such as Montgomery and Fairfax counties, advocate paying for what you use.
These two counties, however, are the two most affluent in the nation. They also have made provisions for taking care of lower and moderate income people at such facilities as Fairfax's Wakefield Community Center, which charges an entrance fee for using the gymnasium, weight room, swimming pool, ballet room and sauna.
Herndon, Va., an incorporated town in Fairfax County, got into the parks and recreation business only last year. But the townspeople approved a$3.5 million park bond referendum in March. The base for this endeavor is a golf course that would generate revenues, decrease the density of the rapidly growing town, increase land value and make the recreation and parks project feasible.
Herndon plans to construct an $850,000 community center and also develop two parks, including tennis courts, ballfields and picnic pavilions. And the way, Herndon found to finance it was go into th golf course business.
"Unless you build a race track or a Capital Centre, what else is going to provide that kind of revenue?" said Art Anselene, Herndon's director of parks and recreation.
Anselene said Herndon projects $280,000 revenues in the golf course's first year of operation, increasing to $400,000-$450,000 in a few years.
Already developers who were planning $50,000-$60,000 homes in the vicinity of the proposed golf course have told the town planners they want to upgrade the homes.
But revenues alone will not solve recreation's problem as the low agency on the government totem poles.
Roger Lancaster, until recently senior researcher at the National Recreation and Park Association, refers to many in today's population as "leisure-time illiterates," unexposed to the great variety of activities in the cultural, arts and even sporting segments of the recreation industry.
What is needed is exposure in elementary school to many elements that will be available later in life. The only way for that is increased cooperation between school systems and recreation departments.
It may sound simple. But, according to NRPA and local recreation administrators, some school officials resist the efforts of the leisure time people. Recreation officials are usually at the mercy of the local principal.
In the same vein, there should be more coordination of all resources, such as private volunteers and nonprofit organizations, whose activities are sometimes unknown and therefore overlapping the local jurisdictions's.
"The key factor in the public sector is economics," said Manning Mosley of the National park Service. "The public sector has to respond to national needs and national goals and priorities. The public sector has been rigid in these terms.
"It becomes an adjunct to traditional programs. Rarely have they become institutionalized. When operating standards become more flexible, they (the recreation and parks departments) won't be the first operation to be cut when budget time comes around."