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NRPA Virtual Conference 2020: Ashley’s Experience

Ashley Hansen November 19, 2020


The National Recreation and Parks Association 2020 Virtual Conference was held October 27-29, 2020.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the NRPA Annual Conference. 2020 was the first year that the conference was virtual, which was new for everyone. The NRPA did a great job in shifting to a virtual conference and still made the experience information-packed and fun. I am already looking forward to attending the 2021 conference in Nashville!

At Spotz, we work with Parks and Recreation departments across the country as an online management and booking tool, so it was interesting to see things from their point of view. During the opening statement of the conference, Mike Kelly, the chair of the Board of Directors said, “Parks have always been essential.” I love this quote and how relevant it is to the past, present, and future. The term “essential business” was not used frequently until this year and shows us how important parks, and open spaces, really are to the community. Parks and recreation organizations help communities with obesity, loneliness, social connections, and much more. They also combat negative climate impact by restoring natural habitats and investing in green communities. After learning about all of this in the opening session, I knew it was going to be a great conference. 

The first general session I attended was “Emerging Leaders: Putting the Pow! In Powerhouse”. I was drawn to this session since Spotz is an emerging leader in the world of Parks and Recreation. One notable thing that stood out to me was when one of the five speakers mentioned that no matter what role you have in an organization, you are not above doing the tasks of the roles below you. This concept is so evident in our world right now, and so important to remember. Organizations only meet goals through a team effort, and building strong relationships and trust within your organization, will take you far. All of the effort from Parks and Recreation agencies across the country has made this year the year that public trails were used more than ever before.

The second day of the conference focused on mental health, and the ways that Parks and Recreation departments help improve the mental health of community members. “The land is love” was the key message of the day. If we show love to the land, the land will give us love back. 2020 is a difficult time for everyone. Right now to make sure our mental health is staying in check, it is important for us to do things such as go outside and be active often, cultivate our relationships, admire art, get enough sleep, and be realistic with our goals. Those points and more are part of the 2020 NRPA survival guide, and great tips for us all to keep in mind. 

A mock-up of what a potential mall could turn into as a recreational space.

A mock-up of what a potential mall could turn into as a recreational space.

The last day of the conference was the most relatable to Spotz as an organization. It was all about investing in Parks and Recreation. “An investment in Parks and Recreation is an investment in public health, tourism, and more.” - Dan Heath author of Upstream. This quote spoke to me, as it really highlights the overall importance of Parks and Recreation. My favorite breakout session of the conference was “Retail Buildings Reimagined for Community Health, Wellness and Recreation” presented by Lindsey Peckinpaugh. Lindsey spoke about the idea of turning empty shopping malls into recreational spaces. It is clear that the retail industry is in decline, and many buildings are sitting empty. Lindsey’s mission is to turn these buildings into fitness centers, recreational spaces, and office spaces. Perkins + Will is a company that is already making this happen and seeing the project be successful in a few old malls. 

“An investment in Parks and Recreation is an investment in public health, tourism, and more."
— Dan Heath, Author of Usptream

Overall, the conference was a great success, and I gained a lot out of it for Spotz, and for myself personally. We are excited to keep working with the NRPA, and with Parks and Recreation departments across the country to help you find where you want to be.