South Sound News

The secret's out: Tacoma parks recognized as among the best in the nation

TACOMA, Wash. — When it comes to best parks in the nation, Tacoma's are at the top of the list.

Metropolitan Parks Tacoma was the recipient of the 2019 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management, an annual award given by the National Recreation and Park Association and the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration.

The award recognizes "excellence in long-range planning, resource management and innovative approaches to delivering superb park and recreation services with fiscally sound business practices."

The announcement was made at a conference in Baltimore on Tuesday.

"This is the group that we look to to lead our industry," Metro Parks spokesperson Hunter George told The News Tribune on Tuesday. "It's a huge honor to win this."

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The National Gold Medal Award recognizes park systems annually in seven categories depending on population size. Metro Parks won in Class II with populations between 150,000 and 400,000 people. The three other finalists were from Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.

In its application, Metro Parks highlighted its most recent accomplishments, including the opening of Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park this year and the opening the Pacific Seas Aquarium and Eastside Community Center in 2018.

A panel of five parks and recreation professionals judges the applications, which includes a five-minute video. Metro Parks staff spent months assembling the application, George said.

This year's award marks the third time Metro Parks Tacoma has won the award — the first time was in 1985 and the second in 1992. In 2017, Metro Parks was a finalist.

"It's a big deal to be a finalist," George said. "When you think about all the innovative things happening all around the country — that's what we think is neat, that we're being measured against the best (parks) in the nation."

Metro Parks also learned Tuesday that it earned accreditation for a second time.

To become accredited, parks systems must meet 151 rigorous standards for managing lands, facilities, resources, programs, safety and services. Only 178 agencies nationwide and three agencies in Washington State have earned accreditation, including parks departments in Shoreline and Bellevue. Metro Parks first earned accreditation in 2014.

Metro Parks was recognized for the award by the Tacoma City Council at a meeting on Tuesday night.

"We would like to thank the citizens of Tacoma for their trust and support," Metro Parks Board of Commissioners president Aaron Pointer said at the meeting.

Metro Parks Tacoma controls more than 70 properties across 2,900 acres.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission was also one of the four finalists in state parks category for the 2019 Gold Medal Award.