Long known as a community that places high value on access to trails, parks, swimming pools, walkways and other recreational amenities, The Woodlands puts a high focus in both employee resources and funding on those recreational perks that residents look for when choosing a new community to live in. That emphasis was recently rewarded as The Woodlands Township was honored with the 2019 National Gold Medal Award Grand Plaque for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
According to a press release from township officials, the award was first given to the township’s Parks and Recreation Department staff in September at a national convention of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), which recognizes honorees in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The township nabbed first place and the Grand Plaque in the Class III, which is aimed at communities with populations between 75,001 and 150,000 residents.
Chris Nunes, the director of the township’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the award is not about him nor his role as the leader of the department, but the entire staff from workers who help repair trashcans and trails, to lifeguards and even the township’s elected leaders.
“We are very excited (to be honored). What this really represents is the community’s commitment to open spaces, parks and our facilities and the programming we do,” Nunes said. (The award) Is quite an honor in the parks and recreation (national) community. And this is not about me, it is about everyone in the blue (township) shirts who are doing the work for residents every day. It is a team effort, but that team extends also to our township president and general manager (Don Norrell), the administration, and our whole Board of Directors and the vision they have for parks and recreation.”
After being awarded the honor at the national convention in Maryland, township officials hosted a ceremony at Northshore Park to recognize staff and others involved in winning the award. Nunes said it took months of diligent meetings and coordination to theorize and complete the intensive application process for the award and having a celebration for all was a great gesture by township officials.
“It was nice the township recognized not just me as director, but all of our staff,” Nunes added.
Township Board of Directors Chairman Gordy Bunch stated in the release the honor was well deserved.
“This is quite an honor for our residents and our staff. When we do surveys, the singular areas that residents focus on are our trees and recreational amenities,” Bunch was quoted as saying in the release. “This is who we are as a township, and your daily commitment to excellence makes this community great.
According to a statistics sheet provided with the release, the township offeres residents and visitors more than 220 miles of hike and bike paths; 14 community pools and five spray grounds; thousands of recreational programs and the high-trees ropes adventure course called Texas TreeVentures; more than 60 “high-quality” special events like the Ironman Triathlon, The Woodlands Marathon and dozens of other athletics events such as running races and other activities; and operates with a philosophy of facilitating, “the provisions of its services through three pillars of service — equity, conservation and health and wellness.”
The release also stated that The Woodlands Township Parks and Recreation Department is the first community in the Greater Houston Region to earn the NRPA Gold Award. To be considered for the award, community officials had to submit an extensive application which included written essays and information. The Woodlands vied for the award with the cities of Greely, Colorado; Thornton, Colorado; and Waukegan, Illinois. A panel of five park and recreation professionals reviews and judges all application materials. Judges are chosen for their considerable experience and knowledge in parks and recreation on both the local and national levels.
For Nunes, a 25-year veteran of parks and recreation administration and management, the award is more special because it originated from peers in the industry from across the United States, many of whom he has known for years and has a deep respect for.
“You know what (other communities) do and you think, ‘Wow, they honored us,’” Nunes said. “And then we really realize how highly respected the parks and recreation department is.”