By: George Virgo, G.M. of Chattahoochee Operations, Nantahala Outdoor Center
When thinking about recreation governing agencies most of us automatically think of federal agencies like the USFS, NPS, and BLM. But there may municipal recreation opportunities right on your doorstep that you might not have even considered. Municipalities typically don’t have the staff or the knowledge to create and facilitate innovative outdoor programming and are usually willing to partner to bring these recreation opportunities to its population.
In early 2020 the Atlanta NOC team started operating a municipal river operator contract for the City of Roswell on the North side of Atlanta. The expansion of river programming, adventure day camps, beer garden event space, and adult specialty programming has been positively received by City of Roswell officials and city residents.
Striking up a conversation or making a connection with a municipality can be as easy as a phone call or email. Most municipalities have extensive directories on their website listing who oversees what programming and finding the right contact can be simple. I am a big believer in meeting onsite and face to face with the first meeting when scheduling and seasons allow. When exploring opportunities to make connections with municipalities it helps to know and have a plan for what you can bring to the table. Do your homework of what programs they offer, what program spaces are available, and if applicable, bring some examples of how your organization has been successful at facilitating programs like these in the past. Doing those few simple things go a long way and shows that you are knowledgeable about your products and existing programs.
Types of partnerships and agreements
The partnerships and agreements between the operator and the municipality can be as involved as a full concessioner agreement or can be as simple as a special use permit. If there are major needs looking to be filled by a municipality then typically a Request For Proposal (RFP) will be issued which will require an extensive amount of time, background information, and sometimes contract negotiation. If an RFP is issued by a municipality, then the expectation on delivery of programming is a handful of options, but typically a full operation covering all possible aspects of a recreation operator. A contractor agreement can be a cost effective and simpler way to offer programming while working with a municipality, unlike the RFP and concessionaire agreement. Typically, when an Outfitter or guide service works with a municipality there will be a revenue share between the two parties and the outfitter will be paid once the services are completed. Sometimes if the facilitation of programming is limited to one or two offerings a Special Use Permit (SUP) can be issued which allows for the operator to run programming in a specific area for a flat fee. There are a wide range of options and opportunities for collaboration between private companies and municipalities but sorting out what works best for all parties can be settled on a case-by-case basis.
Resources and user groups
When partnering with a municipality you are casting a wide net when it comes to user groups. Most municipalities have a need for programming for all ranges, ages and needs, and that should be considered when proposing programming ideas. If a municipality is heavy in one area of programming, they may not be interested in adding more programming to that section of recreation style or user group. Municipalities can have a variety of natural resource areas that can be used for programming, so exploring those areas and determining what fits in the parameters of what the Municipality will want is important. Establishing what you can provide and filling a current need can be challenging and rewarding for both parties. When designing program ideas individual resource areas, a good reminder is that each area can be used for different styles of programming depending on the season. Although as recreation professionals we are constantly trying to be forward thinking and creative, sometimes implementing something we know is successful is the best option as an opening program. You don’t always have to re-invent the wheel.
The partnerships between municipalities and private companies can be fruitful and mutually rewarding, but like most things time and patience is required. Outfitters are typically smaller and faster moving in business matters than a municipality that has many layers and moving parts. Depending on when you are making contact and trying to put things into place the two budget cycles may not line up, in some cases there are workarounds for that timing but not always. With all things there will be a learning curve as to how both parties best communicate and operate. It is very important that you are both working towards the common goal of being successful recreation operators. Be patient, be creative, and most of all have fun.
About the Author
George Virgo is the General Manager of Chattahoochee Operations for the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta. In addition to operating a National Park service concessioners agreement, in early 2020 George and the Atlanta NOC team started operating a municipal river operator contract for the City of Roswell on the North side of Atlanta.