By Edward RiveraApril 26, 2013
FORT WORTH, Texas - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently selected Our Lands and Waters Foundation as the 2012 Excellence in Partnerships Award winner. The national award recognizes outstanding contributions by a partner to the Corps Recreation and/or Environmental Stewardship programs.
The OLWF works with the Fort Worth District and the Southwestern Division in cooperative management of campgrounds, innovative recreational and educational programs, and support for water safety programs. In all, OLWF provides more than $2 million in support to the Corps.
"It's an incredible honor. Partnerships have been gaining steam within the Corps for a few years now and as a result great accomplishments are being made at Corps parks throughout the country," said Tom Burrell, chief executive officer, OLWF. "We are very happy to have won the award and are proud to be part of a partnership community that is helping make our parks a better place for present and future generations."
The Foundation operates 18 parks on four lakes in the Trinity and Piney Woods Regions of the Fort Worth District and reinvests collected revenue back into these parks. OLWF also promotes water safety and safe boating practices, educates the public about native woodland and wetland environments, restores ecosystems on Corps land, provides historical education interpretive programs and actively engages the public through a variety of media outlets.
According to Burrell, the relationship built with the Corps since OWLF's inception has made their success possible. "The idea that we can work together to operate the parks through the Cooperative Joint Management process has proven to be a sound model."
OLWF provides customer service to parks through 72 gate attendant contracts at an annual cost savings for the Corps of $390,000 (total Fiscal Year 2011 and 2012 - $420,000). The Foundation has expanded the Corps' reduced hours of operation from eight hours to 16 hours a day within cooperatively managed parks.
"OLWF has been a great partner! USACE is certainly aware of its key role in outdoor recreation in America, and proud that our 422 lakes in 43 states host more visitors than any other agency," said Charlie Burger, chief, Fort Worth District Operations Division.
The partnership has allowed the District to save $255,660 throughout the last two years due to OLWF taking on campsite repairs, renovations, and/or replacement of recreation facilities including the installation of two new courtesy docks, the repair of 13 existing courtesy docks damaged in storms, the renovation and reopening of three restrooms, and the planning and construction of boardwalks and storage facilities. Some of these repairs enabled the Corps to re-open Oakland Park at Lewisville Lake which had been closed since the 2007 flood.
Additionally in 2012, they reinvested $218,939 into Corps parks in need of campsite improvements, restroom renovations, shoreline mowing, cleaning, and trash removal.
"It has been a learning process and we have had to overcome some hurdles to get where we are but as a result we have arrived at a place where it is possible to accomplish some significant results," said Burrell.
Our Lands and Waters Foundation has also helped the District in getting water safety messages out to the public. According to advertising agency analysis, OLWF has amassed more than 60 million direct and indirect water safety contacts using multiple media outlets for a total cost benefit of $158,900.
"Educating others about what we are doing here is often the biggest challenge whether that is the public or internally. The idea of Cooperative Joint Management is a new one that is sometimes met with skepticism," said Burrell. "Once people understand that we are a non-profit whose goal is to work in tandem with the Corps and improve our parks, everything falls into place."
The OLWF was officially recognized and receive their award at the Association of Partners for Public Lands Conference in March in Portland, Ore. This year's award was co-sponsored by the Corps of Engineers Natural Resources Foundation.
"Congratulations to the Fort Worth District and Our Lands and Waters Foundation for achieving this award," said Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Kula, commander, Southwestern Division. "It recognizes a great partner and the efforts of many people in our community and within the Corps. This is a remarkable testament to the power of partnerships."
Although honored by the award, Burrell and the Foundation don't plan on resting on their laurels; they have plenty planned for this year and beyond. There are plans to open an area for an environmental education program and activity center, a Volunteer Village for Corps volunteers, open another swim beach at a previously closed park and continue aggressively promoting water safety.
"The center will be a gateway for children and their families to get outside and learn about nature and The "Volunteer Village" for the Corps volunteers will include campsites equipped with water/sewage/electricity as well as a building with a work and meeting area, washers and dryers and storage space.," said Burrell. "These are plans we have at the local level, however we are in the process of creating partnerships with new lakes and expanding the Our Lands & Waters Foundation. We have high hopes that 2013 will be another great year."
Burger says the Corps wants to insure the public continues to have access to public lands and resources and in order to do that, the Corps must continue to seek new and innovative ways to manage, operate, and maintain those resources.
"The cooperative management leases, such as the ones we have entered into with OLWF, are a huge part of how we will move forward doing "business as unusual" in these austere times," said Burger.