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The Story of Stephanie L. Crockatt

Buffalo is home to one of America’s greatest treasures – the first coordinated urban park system in the country. In 1868, Fredrick Law Olmsted designed 850 acres of strategically planned parks and parkways throughout the City of Buffalo, creating a park system larger than Central Park in New York City. Today, Olmsted Parks are a unique feature in Buffalo, and a constant reminder of the city’s vibrant past. Executive Director of Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Stephanie Crockatt joined the nonprofit in 2014, and is dedicated to growing the organization in fulfilling its mission.

"Our mission is to promote, preserve, protect, enhance, restore, and maintain our historic park system," explained Crockatt. "My job is a balancing act of our mission, which is planning and advocacy for the future, but also taking care of the day-to-day operations of the parks."

Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy formalized in 1995 as a continued effort of Buffalo Friends of Olmsted Parks, which began in 1978 to help save and restore the park system. The Conservancy cares for six parks, seven parkways, eight traffic circles, and three pocket parks, totaling 850 acres. The six major parks include Delaware Park, Cazenovia Park, Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, Front Park, Riverside Park, and South Park.

Understanding the uniqueness of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Crockatt was set on earning national attention for the organization. Upon starting her role initially as the Sr. Director of Institutional Advancement, Crockatt applied for an award opportunity with the American Planning Association. Following the nomination, Delaware Park was recognized in 2014 as one of the nation’s top ten places of the year in America.

"Applying for designation with the American Planning Association was one of the first projects I took on when starting with the Conservancy," she said. "Recognition for our organization continued from there. Olmsted Parks was named one of the top 10 parks in the world by The Guardian U.K."

The national attention is both exciting for the community, and a reminder about the beautiful spaces that are free to enjoy. People are invited to walk, run, relax, recreate, and picnic at all Olmsted Parks. Community organizations are also encouraged to host functions within the parks, like fitness classes, organized runs, and parties. Crockatt explains the parks all have different communities surrounding them, creating diversity in the system.

"There is a lot of dynamic relationship building because of the distinct locations of each park," explains Crockatt. "We want each neighborhood to feel the proud value of their Olmsted landscape, and that they have a clean, beautiful park for active and passive use."

With roughly 2.5 million visits each year to the six major parks in the Olmsted Park System, Crockatt explains that one of the Conservancy’s biggest challenges is educating the public on the importance of preserving and protecting each park landscape.

"We want to familiarize people about who we are, what we do and why we need their support," she said. "The Conservancy is a nonprofit that is working in partnership with the city, but we are charged with raising more than half of our operating budget every year."

The money raised by the Conservancy is reinvested directly back into the parks. These funds help facilitate natural and environmentally safe landscaping processes, they support repair and clean up after special events and recreational activities, and funds are utilized for expensive mowing and maintenance equipment. The Conservancy derives no revenue from the near 1,600 events held in the parks, relying on the social responsibility of event organizers to make a contribution.

As the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy looks to the future, the organization will celebrate a milestone anniversary in the next few years. 2018 will be the 150th anniversary of the Olmsted Parks, marking the inaugural year that Fredrick Law Olmsted began designing the first urban park system in America. Throughout the year, the Conservancy is planning to commemorate this achievement with special events for the community and their supporters.

"We are excited to see where the next few years takes us leading up to the 150th anniversary," explains Crockatt. "All eyes will be on Buffalo from around the nation as we celebrate this impressive milestone, which reinforces everything good that’s happening in our city."