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How social media helped save our bacon

We have never doubted that the public loves us. With 7 million visitors each year, we know folks love and value Virginia’s state parks. But, knowing they care and rallying support are two different things.

More than ten years ago the Virginia Association for Parks was formed to support state and national parks in Virginia. Government employees will understand – my co-workers and I work for the Governor. We are prohibited by law from lobbying the General Assembly. So we needed someone to make our case to the Governor and General Assembly. Through the tireless efforts of many members, but Jo and Johnny Finch in particular, the VAFP has schooled our legislators on the value of parks – both the intrinsic value of protecting nature and outdoor recreation to the meat and potatoes of the real money parks contribute through local economic impact. The VAFP doesn’t even lobby – they meet with legislators and provide information. There is no paid staff for the VAFP so all the members work in a volunteer capacity.

A little over a year ago we jumped headlong into social media. We have more than 8,000 Twitter followers and more than 3,000 Facebook fans. The Virginia Association for Parks also have a Twitter account. We also have a weekly enews we have had for several years with more than 10,000 subscribers.

On Wednesday Virginia’s new Governor proposed closing 5 parks to help solve the state budget crisis. The closure was to save $500,000 per year. We tweeted the information to our fans and posted the information on Facebook. The VAFP also tweeted the news and drove folks to their website with the tools to rally and support the parks including sample letters and contact information for the legislators. They reached out to their members, who include the individual park Friends groups. It snowballed from there. We also have a database for our volunteers which enabled us to reach even more folks. So, what we had never had before – a way to reach a base of supporters quickly – was available and ready.

The support was overwhelming. Judge for yourself – the House of Delegates and Senate both released their versions of the state budget on Sunday, February 21: no cuts to parks or park closings.

False Cape State Park, one of the 5 parks on the chopping block

If you want to support our parks, consider signing up for a free membership with the Virginia Association for Parks!

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Tom Haser

Nice story. I have been to False Cape State Park — it’s beautiful. Even ran into the wild horses that live there. Congrats on your success here.

Christina Evans

That would have been a tragedy to close a park that looks like that! Congratulations, and it’s nice to hear a real success story for social media.

subroto mukerji

My congratulations to you on making this a success story. The power of social media is absolutely undeniable. Is there a way of developing this network that you have to do even more? I have a feeling that ad hoc groups can be set up to do bits and pieces park management on a volunteer basis or is that asking too much?

Andrea Schneider

Thanks so much for telling this story. It’s such a fabulous way to utilize social media around a compelling issue.

Firoze Lafeer

That’s a great story, congratulations! What’s great is that the public got a chance to express themselves in a way that the government could learn from. There are a lot of things we as citizens might care about, but not necessarily talk about, until given a venue.