Hillsborough Named a National Finalist for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management

Hillsborough County, Fla. (May 30, 2023) - For the second year in a row, Hillsborough County has been honored as one of the top parks and recreation programs in the country.

Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation is one of four national finalists in the Class 1 category for the 2023 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management, the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration announced. Class 1 includes the nation's largest parks and recreation departments, serving populations of more than 400,000.

Only one department will receive the highest award, the Grand Plaque, in September. Each finalist sends the judges a short video highlighting their department.

The achievements of Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation and its impacts on the community include:

  • Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation offers more than 1,700 partnered, athletic programs that have 503,000 visits annually.
  • The department manages 167 parks, 223 sports fields, 118 playgrounds, 54 recreation centers, 47 athletic complexes, 10 dog parks, six cemeteries, and five splash pads. These parks provide an economic impact of nearly $50 million in increased property values.
  • To provide equitable access to all parks, Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation established a $9 million Athletic Turf Initiative to ensure high-quality playing conditions for 40,000 youth athletes and a $3.5 million Americans with Disabilities Transition Plan that assists in removing physical barriers.
  • Parks & Recreation is always searching for creative ways to increase park capacity in an ever-growing urban environment. As a result, Lucy Dell Community Pond, once an overgrown, littered water basin dividing two neighborhoods, was transformed by installing a boardwalk, fitness station, and walking trail, creating an urban oasis. Similarly, when a wastewater treatment plant was decommissioned, the department invested $10 million to create the County's first destination park at the site, which has 603,000 visits annually.
  • In 2021, a former landfill site was converted into the County's first drone racing park. Winner of the 2022 Planning Commission's Planning & Design Award for Excellence in Entertainment & Environment, the course features metal obstacles, start and finish gates, shaded seating, a maintenance and repair zone, and restrooms.
  • Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports (HCAS) is the only team representing a government agency in the USA Wheelchair Football League (USAWFL). In August 2022, Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports hosted the USAWFL tournament at the Tampa Convention Center.
  • The Wellness Access Pass was created to promote healthy lifestyles. For $10.75 per month, participants receive access to County-owned fitness centers and open gyms. The affordability and variety of activities ensure accessibility to all community members. Since implementation, registration rose from 1,963 passes in 2019 to 6,723 passes in 2022 - a 242% increase.
  • The County's Move Hillsborough initiative encourages residents to get active through a variety of programs. Move Hillsborough activities served more than 78,000 people in 2022. As part of the initiative, the County invested more than $1 million in building 10 state-of-the-art outdoor fitness zones throughout Hillsborough.
  • The Hillsborough County Hiking Spree is an annual event that encourages residents to "Take a hike!'' and highlights 22 trails that encompass everything from paved neighborhood trails to primitive treks. Since 2017, over 23,000 residents have explored the County's trails while engaging in a healthy activity.
  • To help serve a population of nearly 1.5 million, the department has engaged 182 partners who provide programming, with 376,927 participants annually. Partners include 49 Youth Sports Partner Organizations, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Founded in 1965, the Gold Medal Awards program honors park and recreation agencies in the United States and military installations worldwide that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development, and community engagement. Applicants are placed into six classes, with five based on population and one class for Armed Forces installations. The award is given by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association.

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