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Parks group serious about bond

Popcorn box trivia spreads foundation's fundraising message


by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND PARKS FOUNDATION - Families gather for a movie in the park, part of the city's Summer Free For All. The Portland Parks Foundation often promotes its Parke Diem effort during city park events.Next time you hit up a Portland Parks & Recreation free summer concert or movie in the park, make sure to grab some free popcorn.

In a stroke of marketing genius, there will be messaging on the popcorn bag.

Below two trivia questions about movies made in Oregon, another question asks what percent of parks bureau playgrounds need to be removed or replaced in the next decade. (The answer: about half.)

“We mix the fun with the serious,” says Nick Hardigg, executive director of the Portland Parks Foundation, the nonprofit group created in 2001 to raise money and support for Portland’s parks.

Portland’s City Council is expected to vote July 24 to refer a parks replacement bond measure to the ballot, which would raise $56 million to $68 million for critical repairs to aging facilities.

The measure will not raise tax rates; it will replace the existing bond, which expires next July.

Once state elections officials certify the bond measure for the ballot, public employees — including Parks Director Mike Abbaté — are prohibited from campaigning for the measure.

That means the foundation will be the umbrella group raising money and campaigning for the measure. Hardigg says the foundation is deciding whether to form a political action committee or join with an existing 501(c)(4) group, a nonprofit that is politically active but must not spend more than 50 percent of their money on politics.

The parks foundation receives no city money; its funding comes from sponsorships for events as well as grants from other foundations and 850 regular individual donors.

Handing out 25,000 bags of free popcorn this summer to the 50,000 people who usually attend free movies is just one of the ways the foundation aims to get voters’ attention about the critical needs in the parks.

This summer the group will set up bright orange tents and do a massive amount of community outreach at 136 citywide events, including park movies, concerts, Sunday Parkways and neighborhood fairs.

The movies will adopt a 1950s theme, warning of invasions by UFOs and “Parklandians,” the foundation’s playful name for people who love parks.

The foundation is an umbrella group for the 120 “friends” groups across the city, including Friends of Mt. Tabor Park, Forest Park Conservancy, Hoyt Arboretum Friends, Friends of Laurelhurst Park and others.

A serious side

The foundation’s outreach has a second goal: To get the word out about their second annual volunteer weekend event in October, called Parke Diem.

Last year’s inaugural event drew 1,400 volunteers to take part in 70 park improvement activities, including habitat restoration in natural areas, invasive species and ivy removal in natural areas, baseball field improvements and sprucing up community gardens. About a third of the participants were at the community gardens; 20 percent were in natural areas, and a quarter were in developed parks.

This year the second annual event is set for Oct. 10 and 11, and Hardigg hopes to draw 2,000 volunteers to make it the largest event volunteer event in Portland. There will be about 50 project sites this year — fewer but bigger ones than last year. Roving bands of guerrilla musicians will also visit volunteer sites to provide entertainment.

The foundation sees outreach for the bond measure and Parke Diem as intertwined, since both raise awareness by engaging people in what the system needs.

“When people get engaged, they care more,” says Hardigg, who joined the foundation in 2011. “The purpose is not just to get volunteer work done, but get awareness of the community and challenges in the parks system.”

Prior to coming to Portland, Hardigg worked for a number of parks environmental organizations. Now he’s one of three staff members at the foundation, which has a 12-person board of directors and three ex-officio members.

See a trailer for Parke Diem here: www.dropbox.com/s/ixyj4mi6rlq21jw/PDpromo_v5.mov.

For details on the bond proposal: www.parksreplacementbond.org.