If you look around the OKC metro today, you'll notice how beautiful some of our city and neighborhood parks look, but it wasn't always that way. This month, we're digging in to city beautification and the impact OCCF's Parks & Public Space Initiative has had on this effort. We sat down with OCCF's Lanc Gross and OKC Parks' Scott Copelin to talk about our city's transformation over the past couple decades and how grants from OCCF have helped make this happen.
Visit occf.org to learn more!
Dan Martel 0:29
Hello, I'm Dan Martel and welcome back to Creating Impact Through Giving. If you look around the Oklahoma City metro area today, you'll notice how beautiful some of our city and neighborhood parks are. Look how the medians along some of our streets look and how great so many of our public spaces look. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has been helping our community through beautification projects for the last several years, and it's all due in part to leadership and dedicated staff that continue to help make that happen.
It really took off back in the early 90s, when a local school teacher named Margaret Annis Boys passed away and left $1.5 million to the Community Foundation. Miss Boys wanted to create an endowment to fund projects that would beautify and care for public parks and medians throughout Oklahoma City. The Community Foundation has honored her final wishes ever since. In this episode, we'll talk to Lanc Gross, who is the Oklahoma City Community Foundation Parks and Wellness Programs Manager. Also on today's podcast, we're happy to have Scott Copelin. Scott is the natural resources manager with OKC Parks’ Natural Resources Division. Well, let's jump to it. I want to welcome Lanc Gross back to Creating Impact Through Giving. Lanc, welcome.
Lanc Gross 1:40
Great to be here.
Dan Martel 1:41
Lanc, you've been with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation for several months now, and today we are talking about the importance and the impact that beautification can have on our city. The OCCF has certainly done its part by awarding grants to all kinds of park and public space projects, correct?
Lanc Gross 1:56
That is correct, yes.
Dan Martel 1:57
Can you tell us a little bit about the process, Lanc? How does one apply for a grant from the Community Foundation if they have a project that would help their own neighborhood park or some other type of beautification project?
Lanc Gross 2:08
Sure. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has grant applications that people can submit for beautification projects within neighborhoods. It's a very simple process. They can go to the website and download the information sheet that talks about the process and how to work through it. Essentially, the first thing that they need to do is just give us a call to kind of talk through and see what type of project they want to do, because we like to vet the projects before they actually submit the application.
Dan Martel 2:38
Okay. That makes sense. Save some time on their end too, as well, just in case. Yeah.
Lanc Gross 2:42
Exactly because they may have an idea for something that may not qualify for what we provide funding for.
Dan Martel 2:49
Tell us about the role you play in this particular process.
Lanc Gross 2:52
Sure. What I basically do is talk with the individuals who are interested in submitting an application, just kind of find out exactly what they want to do. We try to guide them into a certain direction so that it meets our qualifications. For the most part they do go along with what we're wanting or requesting them to do. Once they do that we'll provide them with a link to submit everything online, which is a very simple process. What I do for the Community Foundation is manage and make sure that these things run smoothly.
Dan Martel 3:29
Okay. Are there specific times throughout the year when people can apply for park grants through the Community Foundation?
Lanc Gross 3:34
Yes. We have a grant cycle twice a year. The first one is right at the beginning of the year, around the middle of January. Then the second one comes around, in the middle of July. It works out pretty good for the tree planting because there's a certain time of year between usually about Thanksgiving, till early spring that we really want them to plant trees at that time. We try to set that schedule up so that it works out good.
Dan Martel 4:03
Excellent. What are some of the other projects that are kind of in the works right now that the Foundation has helped fund?
Lanc Gross 4:10
There's been a really good one that came about, it's for The Friends of Choctaw Park. They completed a Monarch Way Station, which is essentially a butterfly garden. One individual's putting all this together, and it just turned out just great. The second one that was really interesting here in Central Oklahoma was a story walk project at a local library. The city of Bethany. It's associated with a park that's right adjacent to it. Essentially what they've done is taken a book apart and put it at different locations within the trail that circles the park. People can walk, get a little exercise, but also read a book as they go. It's a great, great project. I think it's really the first one here in Central Oklahoma.
Dan Martel 4:57
So, who does determine which applications are chosen over others? I know you guys receive a lot of applications. Does this depend on the type of project that one wants to accomplish? How do you all decide?
Lanc Gross 5:10
Yeah, that's a great question. It is dependent upon the type of project that that we're looking for and if it meets all the grant requirements as well. We have a committee internal and also external that'll go through these projects. They're all evaluated based upon a point system that we use to grade these things. It's not basically we like this one. We don't like that one. We do have some numbers associated with it.
Dan Martel 5:37
One of the larger endeavors recently was a project called ReLeaf. How did that come about and tell me how people benefited.
Lanc Gross 5:44
Sure, the ReLeaf project came about because of the 2020 ice storm that we had and also the subzero temperatures that occurred in February of 2021. The combination of those two really had a real negative impact on the trees here in Oklahoma. What we've done is develop a process where people can actually replant trees that they had lost. Not necessarily on private property, but within neighborhood associations within the common areas. If a neighborhood came to us and said, okay, we've lost 10 trees here in this location. We would fund them to plant the trees.
Dan Martel 6:28
All right. Well, that sounds like it was another hugely successful endeavor that the Community Foundation undertook and implemented and it made a lot of people happy. I guess they got some of their trees back, which is great.
Lanc Gross 6:41
Exactly. I think there was probably about 400 trees that were planted.
Dan Martel 6:44
Excellent. Now in addition to parks and neighborhoods, what are some of the other types of organizations that are eligible to apply for these kind of grants?
Lanc Gross 6:52
We work with local parks departments to replace trees that were damaged. We've worked with Myriad Gardens to replace trees that were damaged as well. Other nonprofit organizations as well, or foundations can also apply.
Dan Martel 7:07
Okay. Final question I want to ask you, what does the future look like for Oklahoma City parks and neighborhood parks?
Lanc Gross 7:14
Yeah. That's a great question. You know, you think about this. I've been involved in municipal government for the past 30 years and seen a real disinvestment, probably the first 20 years, but over the past 10 -15 years the City of Oklahoma has really started to put more into their capital improvement projects; building new parks, upgrading things. The deferred maintenance that has gone on for so long has really turned around. They've included projects within bond issue projects, within the MAPS projects. It appears though, the city leaders have really understood the importance of having a good park system here and something that's well maintained as well. Which benefits everybody because it really comes down to the quality of life here in Oklahoma City.
Dan Martel 8:06
Well, and it's funny, I guess if you go back 30 - 40 years, you kind of looked around Oklahoma City and it didn't seem to be the most attractive city in the country. Through the years and through the work that the Community Foundation continues to do with their Parks and Public Space Initiatives we are really looking like an incredibly beautiful city the more and more we see things popping up. I think this only contributes to people taking care of their own neighborhood parks and investing and doing what they do to keep families together and invite visitors in. That's all impressive. Lanc, if people are listening, what's the best way for them to find out about the park grants offered through the Oklahoma City Community Foundation?
Lanc Gross 8:48
Sure. The best way to do that is to go to www.occf.org/parks. That is the location that they can find out all the information that they need to know about making an application for that grant. My phone number's there as well. They can give me a call and talk to me about a project. I will be more than happy to work them through the process and discuss any issues or questions that they have.
Dan Martel 9:17
All right, if you're living in a neighborhood in and around Oklahoma City and you have a little neighborhood park, you've got a project that you're interested in seeing that thing upgraded and would like to apply for a grant, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation's website again it's www.occf.org/parks. Feel free to reach out or give Lanc Gross a call. Lanc, thanks for being on the podcast today. We certainly hope that people will take advantage of all the work the Community Foundation continues to do for the city, especially when it comes to our parks and public spaces. Thanks again for being here.
Lanc Gross 9:47
Thanks for having me.
Dan Martel 9:49
Also, with us today is Scott Copelin. Scott does oversee the design, construction and landscape maintenance at Memorial Park, as well as oversees the maintenance at Will Rogers Gardens, both here in Oklahoma City. Welcome to our podcast today, Scott, thanks for being here.
Scott Copelin 10:03
Hey, thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it.
Dan Martel 10:05
So, tell us a little bit about your job. What do you do Scott?
Scott Copelin 10:08
I've actually worked for the Oklahoma City Parks Department for almost 20 years now. I started back in 1995. I worked there for about 14 years as the park planner, so my background's landscape architecture. Then about 14 years into it, it was time for a change. I actually went to the MAPS department and worked on MAPS projects for like MAPS For Kids. Then when MAPS3 came around, actually Scissortail Park was my project that I was working on. Then all of the multi-use trails were projects that I worked on too. It was a lot of fun. A lot of experience. I got to meet a lot of cool people, do a lot of cool stuff. Then during the process of doing the park, I got to meet the new parks director. Then the lady who's now the parks director who was in my position at the time, she was a natural resource manager, she became the assistant director. One day I went down and I told her I wanted her job since she left to become the assistant director. Here I am now.
It's been great. I feel very fortunate to have the job I have. It's a great job. It's fun. It's never the same on any day. I mean, it's awesome. As a natural resource manager, I oversee the fish hatchery. We're the only city in the state, maybe in the region or country I've been told, that actually has a fish hatchery. We supply little fish for all the close to home waters and all the big lakes in Oklahoma City. It's really cool. It's about making fishing better in Oklahoma City. That's what we try to do. We work really closely with the wildlife department. We manage field horticulture. Field horticulture maintains over 60 acres of grass and over 500,000 square feet of planting beds within the park system. We maintain city hall, Bicentennial Park, municipal courts, a lot of medians, Oklahoma Boulevard, First American museum. We maintain all of that now, which is my vision.
Dan Martel 11:57
Well, I mean really, a lot of the beautification that we we see across the city, you've had a hand in quite a bit of it.
Scott Copelin 12:05
Dan Martel 12:06
Scott Copelin 12:06
That's, what's fun about it.
Dan Martel 12:07
Absolutely. Will Rogers Park is where the Margaret Annis Boys Arboretum is located.
Scott Copelin 12:11
Dan Martel 12:12
When was that Arboretum named after Miss Boys? How did that all happen? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Scott Copelin 12:16
I don't know the whole story. I know part of it. I know in about 2009, it was actually dedicated to the Margaret Annis Boys Trust Arboretum. Before that the Oklahoma Community Foundation helped fund walking trail that goes through the gardens, which is, that was a game changer for the whole park. Before that came along, it kind of had a bad reputation because of things that happened in the park. As soon as they built the trail, more people came into the park, into the garden and we don't have hardly any problems anymore inside the garden. The trail that was put in with Margaret Annis Boy's Trust money was a game changer for the garden. I will tell you that.
Dan Martel 12:54
Well, I know that the Oklahoma City Community Foundation has awarded grants to both Will Rogers Park and Memorial Park.
Scott Copelin 13:00
Dan Martel 13:00
In addition to the trail that you just mentioned at Will Rogers, what are some of the other projects that you were part of? I know you've had a long relationship with the Foundation and with some of the folks that have worked in our parks and public spaces.
Scott Copelin 13:12
Brian Dougherty, I've known Brian for a long time.
Dan Martel 13:15
Scott Copelin 13:16
But then who doesn't know Brian as well?
Dan Martel 13:17
Of course. What are some of the other projects that come to mind?
Scott Copelin 13:22
When I first took over this job we actually did some entrance markers that we worked with Brian on. We put these giant boulders with a bronze plaque on them to tell a little bit about the Margaret Annis Boys Trust and the trail and all that. That was one. There's tree planting projects that have gone on, and then more recently we've added what we call the Memory Garden inside Will Rogers Garden. It was our first big project that the Friends of Will Rogers worked with the Community Foundation on. We're close to completing that. It's over a hundred-thousand-dollar project. It's an awesome little project. In fact, we're finishing up the little fountain in the garden right now. That's going to be really cool. I encourage everybody to come out and see it. That was the last big thing that we worked on with the Community Foundation. We're looking at other things down the road too. We're looking at expanding, we're actually working on a master plan for the entire garden right now that we want to work real closely with the Community Foundation.
Dan Martel 14:18
Excellent. That is fantastic. You know Brian just retired. I think his last week with us was just a couple of weeks ago. With Lanc Gross taking over, I know that Lanc has got all kinds of things coming up.
Scott Copelin 14:28
Lanc is awesome.
Dan Martel 14:29
You guys are going to have a good relationship I'm sure with whatever we end up funding. The large water fountain located at Memorial Park was non-functioning for what seemed to be decades. It's now working. Do you know anything about that project?
Scott Copelin 14:42
I know a lot about the project.
Dan Martel 14:43
Okay. Well tell us about it.
Scott Copelin 14:44
The fountain is, I think it's close to 90 years old to my recollection. It was they right before I came back to the parks department, the park planners did a design in the garden and they redid all the area around it. They had planting beds, they had a little DG area that's around the fountain. The DG has become kind of a nightmare in way because what happens, people throw the gravel into the fountain and then it gets into the pump and then the pump stops. It's always a series of it's working, then it's not working. Then it's working, it's not working. Then the fountain itself was so old that it had developed some big cracks in it and stuff. That's the last thing that was a huge help with, from the Community Foundation. They paid for the restoration of the fountain itself and it's beautiful. They filled the cracks, it works. We've done work on the pump itself. It has a new pump in it now. It should be running for a long time.
One of the things I would like to do in the future is actually get rid of the DG and put it in a solid paving. Then you don't have any problems with any other stuff going in it. We're also looking at doing irrigation to the beds. The beds never had irrigation. One of the big things that I believe in, every planting bed that we have should have irrigation. The goal down the road is to use less water, but to get things established, it's the best and easiest way to do things. We're looking at doing that throughout the park system on things that we work on.
Dan Martel 16:03
Well, I can tell you that just driving down Western Avenue in Oklahoma City and looking over and seeing that beautiful fountain functioning.
Scott Copelin 16:08
Oh, it's awesome.
Dan Martel 16:11
Scott Copelin 16:12
Oh, I agree.
Dan Martel 16:13
I'm sure it's drawing a lot of new people to the park that...
Scott Copelin 16:15
I guarantee you.
Dan Martel 16:16
Drove by for many years and said, well, what's the point, but now that's the point.
Scott Copelin 16:21
Well, the other thing at Memorial Park too though, is there's a parking lot on the north side of the park we did get a little money from the Community Foundation. I don't know. I can't remember the exact amount, but we put in a rain garden for the parking lot. That's a great project too. We're going to be landscaping it pretty soon. We're able to make that better too. Everything's getting better.
Dan Martel 16:39
You all maintain softscape and hardscape at Will Roger's Park. What does that entail? I'm not sure our listeners really know what the difference between a softscape and a hardscape is. Tell us what that is.
Scott Copelin 16:50
It's easy. Hardscape is more like your concrete paving, concrete pavers, anything that's hard that you walk on or like that. Softscape is your landscape beds basically. It's really simple.
Dan Martel 17:02
Okay. Well now everybody out there that's listening you know the difference between softscape and hardscape. What types of improvements do you all do at the Margaret Annis Boys Arboretum?
Scott Copelin 17:11
We now irrigate it because we finally, this past year actually put in a sprinkler system for the very first time in the entire garden. We spent a lot of money. We now get to irrigate everything, which is a game changer. We're looking at doing more under story plantings, more bed plantings. We just we did the wind harp, that was a Community Foundation project too, which is awesome. We mow, irrigate and plant trees.
Dan Martel 17:40
You know, Scott, you mentioned just a few minutes ago that there was a time that Will Rogers park seemed to be in decay. That was sort of unsafe. A lot of people weren't going to the park. Was it the trails that was the turnaround for that park?
Scott Copelin 17:52
I think so. It got more people in the park. That's the one thing, if you know things about the park systems in general, the more people that visit a park, the less problems you have with vandalism and other stuff. We encourage everybody to get out and go to their park. The thing that's really cool about it too, is that parks are for everybody up until 11 o'clock at night, then they close.
Dan Martel 18:14
Well, Scott, thanks for being with us today. I appreciate it.
Scott Copelin 18:16
Dan Martel 18:16
I know you guys continue to do wonderful things to keep both Memorial Park and Will Rogers Park looking beautiful as well as some of the other parks all over our city. We continue to attract families and visitors for their unique offerings and you and your team have done a great job, keeping that Margaret Annis Boy's legacy alive. We do appreciate that. It all started with an endowment she created and today the Foundation continues to foster her wishes with the help of folks like you. Thanks for being here, Scott. We do appreciate having you on.
Scott Copelin 18:43
Yeah, you're welcome. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Dan Martel 18:46
Well, that wraps us up today. We hope you learned a little bit about beautification and what it means to our city and for our neighborhood parks. Anybody can leave an impact in their community. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation took the idea of a retired school teacher named Margaret Annis Boys, and continue to fulfill her wishes every day into perpetuity, by awarded grants, to a variety of parks and public spaces all across the metro area. Join us again next month when we'll have a special podcast for all of you as I interview the brand new President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, Trisha Finnegan. As you know, Nancy, Anthony served as our president here at the Community Foundation for 37 years. We now look to a future with a new leader. We will talk to Trisha about her vision for the Community Foundation and the future impact it will have on the OKC community. We look forward to having her on board and on this podcast.
I want to thank Lanc Gross and Scott Copelin for being with us today. We look forward to having you back with us next month. Until then, I'm Dan Martel. Thanks for listening to Creating Impact Through Giving. Have a fantastic week.