By NOHVCC Program Director Marc Hildesheim:
Often when a grant is awarded and funded the recipient is so excited about getting to work, they find themselves with tunnel vision. The hope is that the project speaks for itself, and that project funders and partners know what is going on. I recently realized that it is never safe to make those kinds of assumptions.
Many of our partners who visited Prison Hill Recreation Area in Carson City during our 2019 Conference would not even recognize it now. Although we are still not at the finish line, NOHVCC, ReConnect, and the city have made huge strides in creating a managed setting with a higher quality recreation experience. We have added a tot-lot, a beginner area, fencing, signs, drainage control, and even some new trails. To me and others who have watched the changes take place, the difference is obvious. To others outside the project team, the changes may be less obvious.
While we worked along, getting excited when we saw kids riding in the play area, or a big kid riding slowly across our parking lot thanks to our new regulatory signs, we may have lost sight of those who might view the project in a less favorable light. While the project team thought that the visible work was explanation enough, those that had issues with the project (like Great Trails author Dick Dufourd says “with an OHV Project there will always be issues”) were telling their own story. It got to a point where the project team and the detractors were telling a very different story. This put some of our partners and funders in a difficult spot, because while they did give us the benefit of the doubt, the public servants we partner with have an obligation to hear and respond to all sides. Often time they were left in a tough spot on what to say or how to respond.
The project team realized that the only way to properly tell our story was to invite these funders and partners to the work site and discuss not only what was happening, but what would be happening soon. So, last month representatives from Carson City Parks, Recreation, and Open Space, NOHVCC, and RecConnect met with representatives from Nevada State Parks, The Nevada OHV Program, Carson City Open Space Advisory Committee, The Nevada OHV Commission, and Resource Concepts Inc (a local company that has been invaluable in procuring necessary permits for the project).
In just two hours the project team was able to discuss the Prison Hill management plan for OHVs, some of the management decisions that have been made, the sign plan, the parking lot/tot-lot/beginner area, and some of the work that had already been done to restore natural drainage patterns on the hill. Of course, it is always fun to show off your accomplishments, but the greatest benefit of this field trip was developing a shared understanding and vision of the project itself. This would arm our many wonderful partners in the project with the information they need to answer public inquiries. We provided quarterly reports along the way, but they did not create an adequate picture of what was happening on the ground. The field trip painted a much more complete picture.
So, as you find yourself working on your own trail projects make sure that you are maintaining open lines of communication with your partners. Include a lot of pictures in your quarterly reports, pictures are after all worth a thousand words. Do not assume that the people reviewing your billing and reports automatically understand your project. They may have never been to your local riding area. Finally, don’t forget to invite your partners out to the work site when appropriate. The public servants and volunteers who made up our field trip are all people who care just as much as our project team about protecting resources, providing high-quality recreation, and ensuring that public funds are being spent appropriately. They want to get outside as much of the rest of us, so make sure you are encouraging them to do so. Just a few quick on-site meetings during the grant cycle can greatly increase understanding and appreciation of your project.