NOVA Parks Strategic Plan 2018-22


NOVA Parks in 2017:

NOVA Parks is a high performance agency. Over the last ten years, the organization has grown its area of parkland by 20% to over 12,200 acres, and enterprise revenue has increased by 90%. The fast pace of growth and innovation is a source of great pride for everyone connected to NOVA Parks. This remarkable growth has been driven by the successful implementation of two previous Strategic Plans. The focus on the achievement of goals will help drive this plan to achieve more remarkable accomplishments.

NOVA Parks in 2022:

In 2022, NOVA Parks will be known. Our brand and agency will be connected to the wonderful parks and programs that the public values and enjoys so much. Our reputation as a top innovator in the field will be reinforced on many levels. Enterprise and technology innovation will continue to lead, but in addition we will be known as an ecological innovator, planting entire native ecosystems to enhance wildlife and educate the public.

Our park system will continue to grow and develop with hundreds of new acres of parkland and gleaming new facilities. We will find opportunities to expand our Capital funding to facilitate this growth.

And, we will set a new benchmark for remarkable customer experiences. The experience will start when people are planning their park visits. With facilities that exceed expectations, programs that delight, and staff and volunteers who provide exceptional service, the overall experience will be remarkable.

Northern Virginia has been enriched by a dynamic regional park system for decades. This five-year period of growth will see NOVA Parks become even more integral to the identity and quality of life of the region.

Ahead are elements of this strategic focus that will achieve this vision.

Strategic Focus

A: Provide Unique and Exceptional Customer Experiences:

Customer experience is not driven by a single factor like facilities, programs or customer service, but rather a combination of all these and other factors that leave a lasting impression in the mind of the customer. The experience begins when the customer starts planning a trip to a park, and continues until he/she shares that experience with others.

Goal 1 - Develop and Implement Consistent Agency-wide Standards for Maintenance and Operations

Vision: To set the gold standard for park facilities, so the public will know if they are at one of our parks they can expect consistently outstanding facilities.


  • Establish standards for various types of facilities and features such as trails, buildings, parking, signage and landscaping
  • Meet and exceed standards for accessibility. Look for opportunities to lead in this area
  • Maintain all NOVA Parks properties and facilities in a superior and sustainable manner

Goal 2 - Expand Offerings to Meet the Needs of Northern Virginia

Vision: With the increasing population and great diversity of Northern Virginia, NOVA Parks has many of the best public venues in the region, and should be a central player in celebrating this diversity with program offerings and special events.


  • Expand program offerings
  • Offer a wide variety of events and opportunities, reflecting the diversity of our region
  • Identify signature events, to be internally managed, that can promote the brand of NOVA Parks
  • Actively engage children with nature within the parks

Goal 3 - Use Technology to engage with the Public in New Ways

Vision: NOVA Parks is a forward-leaning, tech savvy park agency that can be a national leader in using evolving technology to better engage the public in new and exciting ways.


  • Use new technology to connect with a larger audience
  • Experiment with more mobile-based park interpretation
  • Utilize technology to enhance the overall customer experience
  • Innovate new ways of civic engagement to help in park planning

Goal 4 - Provide Exceptional Customer Interactions

Vision: Success is measured in the overall experience of the customer. NOVA Parks is a leader in understanding the paramount importance of positive customer interactions.


• Study the customer experience at major parks and programs to evaluate the total experience and areas of focus for improvement

• Make NOVA Parks Customer Service Training a national model in the field

• Plan events and programs with the full customer journey in mind

• Empower staff to engage and delight customers

Goal 5 - Drive Park Innovation

Vision: Innovation is in the organizational DNA of NOVA Parks. In a world with too much ‘sameness,’ NOVA Parks will offer experiences that surprise and engage our customers with their originality. This creative spark is central to future growth.


• Foster an organizational culture that is willing to take risks, and is open to new ideas

• Create facilities and programs that surpass public expectations

• Identify and develop the NOVA Parks differential advantage

Measurable Results:

  • Survey customers of top attractions by 2018
  • Conduct staff training on innovation by 2018
  • Develop a staff toolkit to empower decision making across multiple levels by 2018
  • Define NOVA Parks maintenance standards by 2018
  • Develop a minimum of (3) significant outreach partnerships by 2019
  • Implement park inspection plans by 2019
  • Use web-based tools to engage public in planning by 2019
  • Identify the differential advantages of 3 of our core businesses by 2019
  • Implement Hiperweb fully by 2020
  • Expand mobile use of website by 50% by 2020 Implement web-based W&OD navigation/interpretation by 2020
  • Host NOVA Parks signature event by 2021
  • Engage 500,000 children in meaningful outdoor experiences by 2022
  • Expand number of events by 30% by 2022
  • Implement ADA accessibility plans at park sites by 2022

Strategic Focus

B: Conserve and Protect Natural and Historic Resources:

NOVA Parks was founded in 1959 by conservationists to protect large land areas, particularly by major waterways. With the Northern Virginia area serving as one of the cradles of American history, NOVA Parks has made the preservation of this historic legacy and the conservation and protection of public lands central to its mission.

Goal 1 - Acquire More Parkland

Vision: NOVA Parks exists to protect some of the most important properties of our region as public open space. Success with this central goal will mean that many significant natural and historic resources will be conserved, providing places for the public to recreate and, in many cases, tell major stories of our region and our nation. It is imperative to grow these vital public lands.


  • Identify and evaluate lands with regional significance
  • Use green infrastructure mapping to help identify opportunities
  • Identify and grow partnerships that help with land acquisitions
  • Seek new and diverse funding sources to support land purchases
  • Seek and encourage land donations

Goal 2 - Develop Sites that Respect and Enhance Natural Resources Conservation

Vision: As the stewards of natural resources, NOVA Parks will demonstrate good management of these resources by using low impact development methods.


  • Park management and development will focus on minimizing impact to natural or historic resources
  • All new buildings with a value over $2 million will be LEED Certified
  • Demonstrate low impact development techniques

Goal 3 - Provide Responsible Stewardship for the Conservation and Preservation of Natural Resources

Vision: With some of the most ecologically important lands in our region, NOVA Parks will be a leader in enhancing our environment.


  • Expand natural resources expertise
  • Expand ecologically diverse forest areas through both land acquisition and native tree plantings
  • Enhance vegetation and habitat in riparian areas
  • Create/restore native ecosystems
  • Identify and protect the various rare and/or endangered species within our lands
  • Promote knowledge of the ecological resources in our parks collaborate with internal and external groups to assist with managing these resources

Goal 4 - Provide Enhanced Preservation of Historic Resources

Vision: The centuries of significant history in Northern Virginia collectively tell many of the major stories of America. NOVA Parks is increasingly recognized as a leader in preserving and interpreting this history for future generations.


  • Further utilize volunteers to help with the preservation and interpretation of historic resources
  • Lead with innovative ways to engage the public in these remarkable stories
  • Conduct archaeological research in conjunction with significant development
  • Collaborate with internal and external groups to manage resources

Measurable Results:

  • Develop native-focused landscaping guidelines by 2018
  • Open new LEED Gold certified facility by 2018
  • Add at least two major historic sites with donations by 2019
  • Develop and implement a minimum of (10) significant interpretative exhibits or programs that focus on park ecological resources by 2019
  • Identify and interpret (5) significant historic features within our parks by 2020
  • Conduct a minimum of 3 significant riparian planting projects by 2020
  • Create model low impact development riparian park by 2020
  • Add Birding section to web site by 2021
  • Plant complete forest ecosystem area by 2022
  • Acquire 4 new properties with a mix of natural resources and historic features to keep pace with population growth by 2022

Strategic Focus

C: Communicate our Story:

Although we have many of the best known park sites in the region, NOVA Parks is one of the best kept secrets of Northern Virginia. Few have an awareness that there is a unique regional park system that has made these sites and experiences possible. One of the goals for the next five years is to make the role of NOVA Parks better known.

Goal 1 - Develop and Implement a Comprehensive Branding Campaign

Vision: Discover What’s Next is a multi-faceted branding campaign to build the awareness of NOVA Parks as a forward-leaning progressive park system with a significant impact on the Northern Virginia Region. With this campaign, NOVA Parks will be known for its positive impact on the region.


  • Fully develop “Discover What’s Next” strategy
  • Develop consistent branding standards
  • Effectively create a connection between parks through cross branding efforts
  • Generate media campaign with both print and on-line news stories, reinforcing the innovative nature of NOVA Parks and its offerings
  • Develop and define NOVA Parks’ key stories
  • Develop new and innovative methods to reach prospective customers

Goal 2 - Be a Leader in Social Media, Website, and Mobile Technology

Vision: Effectively utilizing the 100+ social media channels NOVA Parks uses to communicate with park users to build brand loyalty.


  • Integrate social media feeds into NOVAParks.com website
  • Better utilize user-generated content and photos to build and reinforce the user base
  • Develop branding-consistent stories for blogs and forums
  • Expand the use of targeted on-line content to build supporter bases
  • Enhance content and features of NOVAparks.com

Goal 3 - Develop Engaging and Educational Park Interpretation

Vision: Engage customers with content that is as fun as it is informative and educational.


  • Create a video series with a NOVA Parks ambassador, featuring parks and stories
  • Partner with organizations to expand educational offerings
  • Utilize immersion and hands-on educational activities into park interpretation
  • Expand engagement of children in the outdoors

Measurable Results:

  • Initiate park ambassador video series by 2018
  • Develop and implement first 5 animations for social media by 2018
  • Develop branding standards by 2018
  • Integrate user content and photos into website by 2018
  • Launch animated social media campaign by 2018
  • Implement news story and blog strategy to support brand identity by 2018
  • Communicate the stories of NOVA Parks history as part of 60th
  • anniversary of the agency by 2019
  • Develop a minimum of (4) new cross branding programs by 2019
  • Conduct a minimum of (6) significant branding outreach efforts by 2019
  • Implement search engine optimization by 2019
  • Conduct a NOVA Parks brand awareness survey to measure effectiveness compared with baseline data by 2020
  • Develop 10 new educational partnerships with local nature/history groups by 2021

Strategic Focus

D: Grow Financial Resources:

Central to the past and future success of NOVA Parks has been its unique funding model, with most of operating expense covered with self-generated enterprise revenue. An ambitious plan requires growing resources to achieve benefits for the region.

Goal 1 - Optimize Management of In-Demand Resources

Vision: Provide the capacity and quality of service that can allow the public to utilize the most popular features of NOVA Parks when and how they wish to do so.


  • Optimize programming and facility usage of NOVA Parks’ most in-demand resources
  • Enhance and increase overall retail sales and opportunities
  • Identify and gain operational efficiencies

Goal 2 - Seek New Sources of Capital Funding

Vision: With growing public demand for both parkland and facilities, NOVA Parks will find new and expanding sources of funding to help grow and develop the regional park system. With expanded capital, more parkland can be conserved, and NOVA Parks can grow internal revenue generation to greater organizational strength and stability.


  • Seek both public and private funding partners to substantially increase resources
  • Look to new Capital grant sources to broaden and diversify funding
  • Create stronger relationships with State legislature and agencies

Goal 3 - Expand Revenue Generation from New Facilities and Programs

Vision: Known for its enterprising spirit, NOVA Parks will continue to achieve strong and consistent growth in operating revenues by offering popular and innovative facilities and programs that customers value.


  • Develop Occoquan Regional Park into one of the area’s most popular parks
  • Develop Beaverdam into an iconic place
  • Identify and address emerging trends in parks
  • Expand on-line sales of NOVA Parks merchandise, programs and activities
  • Build on the success of innovative and content-rich programs to expand the NOVA Parks footprint in this market
  • Use Public/Private Partnerships to develop new enterprises and enter new markets compatible with our mission
  • Invest in current enterprises to expand effectiveness of operations

Goal 4 - Develop and Expand Fundraising

Vision: By 2023, NOVA Parks will have substantially grown its fundraising efforts, resulting in enhanced services, programs and facilities to serve the public.


  • Expand partnership with the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia
  • Target family foundations and private grant sources
  • Expand major sponsorships with the business community
  • Grow on-line donations
  • Build strong volunteer and supporter bases into sustaining donors

Measurable Results:

  • Implement enhanced food service training for waterparks by 2018
  • Open Occoquan Regional Park by 2018 and reach projected reservations by 2022
  • Create (3) significant improvements in accounting and paperwork practices by 2019
  • Improve the throughput of both holiday light shows by 2019
  • Expand and improve camping facilities by completing (2) significant improvements per facility to meet market demand by 2020
  • Open Beaverdam new facilities by 2020
  • Increase on-line sales by 50% by 2022
  • Expand programming by 30% by 2022
  • Identify additional capital funding sources by 2022
  • Explore a minimum of (3) public/private partnership opportunities by 2022
  • Expand giving from family foundations, corporate sponsorships and other grant sources by 2022

Strategic Focus

E: Develop Our Human Resources:

NOVA Parks is known nationally as a highly efficient and innovative organization. This reputation and the results that have come from it are all due to an exceptional professional staff and their pride and dedication to continued improvement. The future success of NOVA Parks rests in the hands of these dedicated professionals and their skills.

Goal 1 - Foster a Positive and Professional Workplace

Vision: NOVA Parks is a great place to work, and the staff members have great pride in their jobs and the impact they make on the region.


• Foster a team environment and a sense of community

• Promote an environment where it is okay to try new approaches and ways of doing things

• Build individual ownership of the NOVA Parks brand

• Create greater opportunities for cross-functional and cross-park work

• Create mentoring programs to help new staff connect with the organization

• Design a systematic training and development program

Goal 2 - Promote High Productivity

Vision: With clear goals and needed resources, staff can reach new heights of performance in their careers.


  • Provide appropriate tools to share relevant information in real time to promote better decision making
  • Refine goal development and evaluation process
  • Leverage technology to free up time for higher priority tasks

Goal 3 - Develop and Enhance Human Resource Management Tools

Vision: Creating systems and approaches that assure a continual flow of great talent to grow and develop the Agency. Human resources is made up of the staff, Board, and volunteers that contribute their time and talents to serving the public, and achieving the goals of the agency.


  • Use technology to better facilitate the hiring process
  • Develop a robust onboarding process that educates new staff about the entire system
  • Develop a modern and up-to-date Employee Handbook
  • Create recruitment methods to promote a workforce that is reflective of the population we serve
  • Expand the academic internship program
  • Enhance and expand volunteer tracking and engagement
  • Define a system that serves to retain top organizational talent
  • Seek a workforce representative of the population diversity of our region

Measurable Results:

  • Implement a staff satisfaction survey by 2018
  • Implement web-based resume portal by 2018
  • Create a minimum of 2 agency-wide work or social events to promote team by 2019
  • Establish mentoring program for new full-time employees by 2019
  • Deliver education about careers in Park & Recreation to seasonal employees by 2019
  • Formalize an academic internship program by 2019
  • Create a program that focuses on retention of top talent by 2019
  • Develop web-based dashboard for Park Managers by 2020
  • Create calendar of internal and external training opportunities by 2020
  • Establish program to recruit seasonal employees from park users so our staff better reflects our users by 2020
  • Expand volunteer recruitment and engagement by 2022
  • Establish a program to recruit employees from underrepresented groups by 2020

Strategic Focus

F: Pursue Excellence in Governance:

Effective governance is essential to every successful organization. NOVA Parks has a regionally appointed Board of Directors with a wealth of knowledge and experience to help guide and direct the strategic direction of the organization.

Goal 1 - Provide the Leadership and Resources to Achieve the Strategic Goals of the Organization

Vision: Achieving the Strategic Goals and Mission of the organization by funding the priorities of NOVA Parks.


  • Use the Strategic Plan as a basis for adopting the annual Operating Budget and long-term Capital Plan
  • Conduct and review ten-year financial forecasting
  • Create adequate reserves to offset potential risks
  • Annually update the five-year Capital Plan
  • Review Strategic Plan progress on an annual basis

Goal 2 - Support the Fundraising Goals of NOVA Parks

Vision: With strong Board support, the fundraising activities of NOVA Parks will help address a growing number of financial goals of the organization.


  • Board members will be active partners in identifying and seeking the needed funding sources that will help NOVA Parks achieve its goals
  • The Board will direct staff to develop a fundraising plan that will help achieve the strategic goals of the organization

Goal 3 - Assure Executive Leadership and Staffing Excellence

Vision: Maintain continuity of vision and executive leadership during this five-year period to attain the goals of the organization and expand the reach of NOVA Parks in the region, assuring that the staff has the skills and tools needed to achieve excellence.


  • Assure continuity of executive leadership
  • Support the development of the senior management team
  • Assure adequate training resources for the organization

Goal 4 - Assure Excellence in Board Governance

Vision: The NOVA Parks Board will adhere to the best Standards of Governance to assist the organization in achieving its mission.


  • Board members will commit to their fiduciary, governance and best practices responsibilities, as defined in the governing Board Handbook
  • Annually, the Board will hold a special retreat, in addition to the regular business meetings, to focus on issues of strategic significance
  • Annually, the Board members will conduct a self-evaluation of the Board’s performance

Measurable Results:

  • Annually review/approve budgets, forecasts, and the Strategic Planning
  • Provide annual governance oversight of fundraising efforts
  • Adopt fundraising plan with financial goals by 2018
  • Evaluate and act on a new employment contract for the Executive Director by 2018
  • Implement Board self-evaluations by 2019
  • Evaluate agency wide training efforts by 2020

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