Graduate Students Advocate Nationally for Parks and Recreation Issues

Tuesday, April 13 2010

By Cheryl Dudley

MOSCOW, Idaho – When Kevin Johnston took his University of Idaho graduate-level recreation class to the National Recreation and Park Legislative Forum in Washington, D.C., over spring break, the group was well prepared to advocate for policies applicable to their field of study.

Their preparation was a result of their graduate course, “Policy Analysis and Historical Perspectives of Leisure,” which helped them focus on the policies that would be addressed at the conference.

A new class this spring offered through the College of Education's Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, the course uniquely prepares students to advocate for policies related to parks and recreation, and is followed up by a hands-on visit to the nation's capital.

“One of my students said that he has never had a content-driven class that he could apply in the moment, right now. As an instructor, that was the most valuable thing for me,” said Johnston.

Including Johnston and four of his students, more than 350 citizens and park and recreation professionals convened at the National Recreation and Park Conference to speak to legislators on Capitol Hill and collectively influence park and recreation legislation. The conference began with an entire day of workshops and networking. The University of Idaho students learned how bills move through the House of Representatives and the Senate, and all about the issues related to parks and recreation. They also met with Congressional staff to address the issues.

Some of the policies the students advocated for include: revitalizing public parks and communities through passage of the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act; amending the proposal of the No Child Left Inside bill to ensure parks and recreation agencies are defined as eligible partners to receive funding; and increasing funding in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization for bike and pedestrian trails, the recreational trails program, boating safety and fishing education, safe routes to school and other transportation-related programs that improve community health and livability.

To prepare for the trip to D.C., Johnston crafted his curriculum around the policies he knew would be addressed there. “We read four to five articles in each different policy area of the Parks and Recreation agenda,” he said. “We were advocating for greater funding at the local level, so an understanding how the local government was funded was really important. My goal was to see the students engage at the level they did. If you can go see your congressman on Capitol Hill, you won’t be intimidated to go see your state representatives.”

The students felt connected to a much bigger movement and Johnston was able to reconnect with some Idaho alumni who have achieved high levels of success.

“Everyone wanted to know how we could get more university professors and instructors to bring students to the forum because of how important it is to understand federal funding, particularly when the majority of our state is federally owned,” said Johnston. “Those federal lands are important for the recreation of the state of Idaho.”

University of Idaho recreation graduate student Jim Player was encouraged to know that NRPA legislation has support, as shown from his meetings with the Congressional staff.

“I learned the importance of not only knowing the applicable legislative acts, but also the importance of knowing about the personal interests of the congressmen and congresswomen and their staff as they pertain to recreation and parks,” said Player. “Overall, I feel that I gained an understanding of what is involved in successful lobbying of Congress and how I can personally contribute to the NRPA agenda in the future.”

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the importance of parks and recreation. It’s something people see every day and appreciate, but don’t think about what actually goes into it – the funding that is required,” said Johnston. “Continuing to create awareness every day is the most important thing we can do.”

Johnston plans to teach the class again in the spring of 2011.
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit