A – The Parks Foundation serves all residents and businesses within Clark County, Washington. Supporting the work of the parks and public works departments for each city and the unincorporated county, we aim to touch and enhance the lives of every individual in our community. These shared resources are an important part of the quality of life here in Clark County. The parks are the places where we play, where we explore and connect with each other and nature, and where we simply unplug. Knowing that places like these will continue to be part of what makes the quality of life here so remarkable is the fuel that feeds the passion for the Parks Foundation’s purpose and mission.
As an independent 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, the Foundation is able to be more nimble than most governments, to raise funds and apply them in service of direct needs, quickly and effectively, while also offering donors the benefit of tax exemption for their contributions.
Q – What is the history of the Foundation?
A – The Parks Foundation was started in 1999, spearheaded by three, passionate and longtime Clark County residents and parks commissioners. Florence Wager, Phyllis Goldhammer and Alvin Berg worked with the Vancouver City Council and Clark County Commission to create the Parks Foundation. This small group created a membership organization whose vision and purpose was to build an endowment to support maintenance of parks and enhancements for various recreational programs. Seven individuals with the same passion for parks and recreational opportunities joined the original three to establish a starting endowment.
Within a year the board of directors grew from three to eight members. The Foundation soon realized that, to truly serve the needs of the community, more than an endowment for maintenance would be necessary.
Municipal budgets were growing tighter and tighter, and parks are always on the bottom end of the funding ladder. In order to maintain and grow these incredible resources and sustain and enhance the quality of life for all Clark County citizens, the Parks Foundation expanded its mission to actively raise funds for current projects, and become a fiscal sponsor for projects authorized by the municipalities.
The Parks Foundation has continued to grow, every year, building enthusiasm and support for private fundraising to support these incredible community resources. When the organization became large enough to need an executive Director, founder Phyllis Goldhammer took the reins. She was succeeded by Cheri Martin in 2007. Martin served into 2015, when she was succeeded by Temple Lentz. In 2017 Dianna Kretzschmar joined this lineage of influential leaders, sheparding the Foundation and community into the next chapter or parks’ strength and importance within Clark County.
Q – What are the pressing needs being addressed?
A – Parks maintenance, operations, and expansion are primarily funded by a municipality’s general fund. This is the same pool of money that funds Police, Fire, and Transportation. Even as public officials know and state that parks are of vital importance to a community’s health, well-being, and sense of fulfillment, tough budget decisions are necessary every day.
Park funding in Vancouver and Clark County was whittled away to less than the bare minimum in the wake of the Great Recession, and although the situation has improved, funds are not being restored to the same levels as before the crash. Every summer, parks go unwatered and untended, recreational programs for underserved communities are cut due to lack of funding, and fewer staff are forced to try to make even less go further and further.
The Parks Foundation exists to help bridge the gap, and provide an alternative funding source to ensure that these gems of our community remain that way.
Q – How is the Foundation uniquely qualified to address these challenges and needs?
A – Working in close partnership with, but independently from, local municipalities, the Parks Foundation is uniquely positioned to offer support for parks and recreation, where municipalities need it most. We allow donors to support these resources that they love and value, and to choose how those funds are spent. Whether giving to unrestricted funds that support our work overall, or giving to specific projects in specific communities, donors are able to give as they are able, and see immediate and significant benefit.
The Foundation accomplishes its mission by creating and nurturing innovative partnerships, administering strategic grants, and establishing special funds to enhance these assets that are so important to our community.
In Clark County, some of our greatest resources are our parks, trails, and open spaces. These shared resources provide places for kids and families to play; for neighbors and friends to gather; and for any of us, at any time, to take a break from the pavement and hustle, and reconnect. This common understanding was validated in the City of Vancouver’s recent community survey. Parks and trails were shown to be of the highest value to survey respondents, and were also shown to be where citizens felt we should invest to maintain and steward these resources.
As we enter 2018, and the strong growth cycle in Clark County’s and Vancouver’s life cycle continues, the Parks Foundation will collaboratively guide discussions and opportunities on projects such as the Lewis and Clark trail and Vancouver’s Waterfront park. In coming issues we’ll dive into the programs and offerings of the Parks Foundation.
We invite you to join conversations and solutions for conserving and building our recreation programs and facilities, trail systems, and parks online or through our newsletter. Learn more about specific examples of the Parks Foundation’s impact through our Community Grants.