By Katie Callahan (File photo)
Neighbors of Four Mile Run Park want to spruce it up with a few new trees and are taking an innovative approach to their fundraising efforts: crowdfunding.
Residents across Alexandria were eager to get going on renovation work after the citywide parks improvement plan passed in April. The document outlined possible projects — and estimated costs — but taxpayer funding proved more difficult to obtain.
“We had community groups … that said, ‘We want to see some of these recommendations sooner rather than later. We don’t want to wait for capital improvements. We go to these parks everyday and we want to fund it,’” recalled Dana Wedeles, the city’s park planner.
For residents like Kevin Beekman, that meant taking matters into their hands. Beekman is coordinating the Four Mile Run Park project and said there was a lot of interest among his neighbors and others to raise money directly for the public space in Arlandria.
“Experience has shown, though, that the public is really looking for specifics when making a contribution,” he said. “They’d like to see it going to something like trees [rather] than just a general park fund. At least that’s what we think. So, now armed with the Four Mile Run Park improvement plan, we actually have a list of things that the city has documented that the public wants to accomplish.”
Better known as crowdfunding, the fundraising method is becoming increasingly popular, with websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo being the best known.
In order to set up a Citizinvestor account, supporters had to secure the city’s approval. The site partners with local municipalities, letting residents make tax deductable donations toward specific undertakings. Then organizers have a set period of time to reach their fundraising goal. Donations are only collected if the project is fully funded.
Four Mile Run Park’s community group raised $380 to fund the project’s first phase and is now $100 into the second phase. With the help of local nonprofits and revenue raised through a farmer’s market held in the park, the group has collected about $2,400 altogether. If they are successful, volunteers will plant 13 trees in the fall.
The crowdfunding effort marks a first for Alexandria, officials said.
“What’s slightly different about this is the technology used,” said city spokesman Craig Fifer. “What the website does is make it easier for people to give money to the project. This is something Alexandria has been doing for hundreds of years. It’s a modern implementation of local generosity that our residents have shown for a long time.”
Officials in the city’s parks and recreation department are watching the effort with a keen eye. If it succeeds, it could be applied elsewhere.
“We’re excited to see what the results from this are and if it is a useful tool for the community and community groups,” said Wedeles. “If it is, we look to partner with other groups to fundraise in a similar fashion in the future, but this is somewhat new to us.”