Keeping a wish list for future improvements to Bartlett’s celebrated parks isn’t enough, and neither is resting on the city’s laurels after earning the title as the 2016 Best Parks and Recreation Department Program in Tennessee. How else to remain the very best except by dreaming big and planning for the long term?
That’s where a new public funding program comes into play.
The city and its Parks and Recreation Department’s Advisory Board have created the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund. It is a tax-exempt fund that will accept donations to protect and enhance Bartlett’s park system for present and future generations.
“It is our intent that the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund will serve as a private sector funding source to further projects and initiatives that fall outside the annual City Parks Budget,” said Parks Chairman Warren Young. “An example might be public art in the parks or new trail amenities that were not included in the annual budget. These types of projects would be ideal investments for the Foundation.”
Other suggestions over the years have included a toddler park, options for citizens with disabilities, a creek bridge in Nesbit Park and additional playground equipment at Singleton. These are just a few examples of what citizens have asked for to continue improving the city’s extensive park system, which includes 959 acres ranging from pristine parks to wild, natural hiking and biking trails. (See a complete listing of the city’s 29 recreation facilities and parks at cityofbartlett.org/167/City-Parks-Listing.)
Bartlett residents of all ages use the parks, whether they are walking the trails, using the Singleton Center, working out at Bartlett Recreation Center or playing soccer, said Melissa Woodall, secretary of the Bartlett Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “Everybody takes advantage of and uses the parks. They are such a great asset to the community. … You always remember growing up and going to the parks.”
The original idea for a parks foundation arose in the 2007 Parks Master Plan. But it was not until 2015 when the current Parks Advisory Board began updating the 5-Year Plan that the creation of a foundation gathered momentum. (See the updated plan here: cityofbartlett.org/DocumentCenter/View/7249.)
“We took a serious look at what the needs were,” Woodall said. “We kept seeing all the things people wanted.”
The board and department staff did research and decided that partnering with the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis provided good opportunities for Bartlett and its Parks Foundation Fund.
Foundations like this aren’t uncommon, Woodall said. Bartlett will continue to grow, and so will its park system. The city has to balance many demands within the municipal budget, and the grants process is always competitive. A foundation fund would be an ideal complement, the advisory board decided.
Woodall said, “This is a way we can all give back without touching your tax rate, without it adversely impacting the city’s bottom line in any way.”
Oversight for the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund includes the city’s mayor, chief administrative officer and parks board chairman. To invest any funds raised requires approval of the parks board, the mayor and city board, and action by the fund’s board of advisors. An annual report also will be published by the end of January each year and will be linked on the parks’ web page.
Bartlett Mayor A. Keith McDonald said, “We are so very pleased with the establishment of the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund. It is a true example of how important it is for the public and private sector to work together to creatively develop programs and funding solutions for community enhancements.”
He also commented on the city’s honor for having the state’s best parks and rec program. “That does not just happen. It takes the substantial fiscal commitments by the city each year to maintain the 959 acres of parkland in Bartlett and the commitment of taxpayers to support these investments. The Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund simply provides another financial tool to have available to us for use in building and maintaining our award-winning park system.”
The fund has some seed money already, including a $10,000 corpus donation from the city, donations of $100-$250 from passionate users of the park system, a donation in memory of the late Dr. Laurie Baker and smaller gifts of $5 and up. There also have been corporate donations from the broader Mid-South region because many people live in Bartlett and work elsewhere, or a business is in Bartlett but has employees that live elsewhere, Woodall said.
As a 501(c)(3), the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund allows donors to receive a federal tax deduction. Donations may be made in the form of cash, stocks, bonds, life insurance and/or real or personal property. Gifts also can be directed to a specific program or facility. The foundation also will have capital campaigns for larger projects from time to time.
It’s not just the big benefactors who will make a difference. Checks for thousands are appreciated, but so are gifts of $5 and $25.
“Every commitment and gift is important, because everybody uses and benefits from the parks program in our community,” Woodall said. “It is part of our quality of life, which is one of the reasons that we all choose to live here—having a safe community, having great schools, having beautiful parks that are active on a year-round basis.”
To learn more, visit the Bartlett Parks and Recreation website at cityofbartlett.org/1233/Bartlett-Parks-Foundation-Fund.
To donate by credit card, go online to cfgm.org/bartlett-parks-foundation. To donate by check, pick up a brochure and donation flier at Bartlett City Hall, 6400 Stage Road, or the Bartlett Parks and Recreation Department Administration Office, 5868 Stage Road.
For more information on the Bartlett Parks and Recreation Department or the Bartlett Parks Foundation Fund, contact Shan Criswell, assistant director, at (901) 385-5590.
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.