6 Elements to Make Your Park Project Successful

What makes parks and trails projects successful? Is it design? Is it the type of amenities? Of course good design matters and of course having the right amenities that are responsive to the community matter. There are many factors that make a trail or park project successful but my interview with Carol Evans at the Urban Wilderness in Knoxville revealed 6 factors that have made and continue to make The Urban Wilderness in Knoxville, TN successful and they are having massive success.  Maybe you can find some application.

Carol is the Executive Director of The Urban Wilderness in Knoxville, TN. She is a great leader with a great vision. But she admits that it takes more than being the leader or having the title. It seems to be more about a commitment to the vision and being willing to take the long view but celebrate the quick wins.

Carol Evans, ED Legacy Parks Foundation

She also comes from a marketing background which also may give her the edge when it comes to describing the vision! It is often difficult to know what makes a project successful, especially because we are wired to get to the next project without taking the time to pause and evaluate what is working and not working. That is why I was excited to talk with Carol because it is clear that she has done exactly this: she has taken the time to review what she sees working for her in Knoxville.

The Urban Wilderness is made up of approximately1000 acres but is not owned by one single agency. There is a private nature center, 4 historic battlefield sites, 2 city parks and a greenway along the Cumberland River just to name a few. The goal of the Urban Wilderness is to connect these disconnected amenities with trails and make it a destination.

“Instead of creating trails within a park they were creating trails to connect parks.”

They have been working on this since 2008 and it seems to be working.

From $1,500,000 to $10,000,000.00. They started out in 2008 with a small capital fundraiser of $1.5M with no history of zero public funding to buy property across the river from downtown Knoxville and just recently 2019, The City of Knoxville announced it is investing $10,000,000.00 in a gateway project leading to the Urban Wilderness. The Urban Wilderness has been featured in the Backpacker Magazine, Mountain Bike Magazine and Southern Living and was home to the Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Race Nationals. It has truly helped Knoxville become an outdoor destination.  

Momentum is a huge factor when raising capital and gaining public support. When I was building greenways with The Trust for Public Land, we would get a section built, open it up and celebrate it and build momentum for the next section. You build momentum by growing your reach, creating excitement, telling and re-telling your story and your vision.Carol did this as well. They celebrated small victories. She indicated that she felt like they were celebrating something every month.

Urban Wilderness Map

So when I asked Carol what is making the Urban Wilderness successful she had an answer for me.  Here are the 6 things that have made and continue to make the Urban Wilderness successful:

  • First - Partnerships: From the very beginning, partnerships were critical because the assets were all owned by different agencies. “We were forced to collaborate early and it became part of the on-going construct and dialogue.” The partnerships were diverse ranging from State to local non-profits.
  • Second - People: The Urban Wilderness advocated for people getting in the woods versus advocating for one or two specific activities.
  • Third - Diverse Funding: This was funded in “bite-size” sections. There was not a single donor that made it happen. There were many donors that gave in a variety of ways.
  • Fourth - Volunteers: Volunteers help show the donors and politicians that you have skin in the game and that a diverse group of people want this to happen.
  • Fifth- Political Support: This one I talk about in several of my other blogs https://www.accelparks.com/post/getting-a-supportive-local-elected-official, and it really goes without saying. Getting in front of political leadership early and engaging them is critical. How can your project become their project?
  • Sixth- Flexibility: You don’t always have to be a purist on design, route and material. You may have to be flexible with the end game in mind.

When I take a moment and reflect on the successful projects I have been involved in these 6 Principles were present in some form. Next time you are kicking off a park project start with these 6 items on your checklist to give your project a boost towards success!

Also, just a little challenge and encouragement to all of you doing park projects. Take the time to ask the question what has made your project successful or not so successful.  We can all learn from you asking that simple question.

Please let me know if you have other principles or other key elements that have made your project successful. I would love to know.  

Finally - If you are interested in hearing the entire interview you can listen and watch at Connectivity: 2 Case Studies. However, this one does cost a little because I prepared it as a course and I interviewed Noel Durant from Chattanooga in this course as well. I think you will find it helpful and certainly more in depth.

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