Common Ground

A Passion for the Parks

Questions and answers with Jocey Hale, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation’s interim executive director:

An avid cyclist, swimmer and long-time parks supporter, Jocey Hale says not a day of her life in Minneapolis goes by without connecting to parks. Whether she’s biking over miles of trails and pathways on her way to work, diving into Bde Maka Ska and Cedar Lakes for her habitual end-of-day swim, or heading out for a bracing winter walk along Minnehaha Creek, the Minneapolis park system is interwoven into her favorite hours of the day. 

“In my mind, the city of Minneapolis IS the parks system,” she says. “I think they’re inseparable.”  

A long-time nonprofit leader and organizational consultant, Hale joined the Minneapolis Parks Foundation team in January, stepping into a new role as the foundation’s interim executive director. “It’s a privilege to play this role in support of the Parks Foundation’s wonderful staff and board during this transition time,” says Hale, who is also serving on the foundation’s executive search committee. “Our outgoing executive Tom Evers was enormously successful expanding the foundation’s fundraising and organizational capacity and we’re looking forward to finding a new leader who shares that vision and drive. It’s a fantastic job and the person who gets the chance to serve in this role permanently is going to be a very lucky person.” 

You’ve been involved with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation as a donor, a board member, and now as interim executive director. What drives you?

What drew me to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation was their visionary leadership that is focused on making sure that everybody in our city has the same access to this great park system. Equity is the core focus of our current strategic plan, and it’s something I feel deeply about. When I was executive director of the Loft Literary Center, the organization won the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits anti-racist initiative award for EQ spoken word series produced by Bao Phi, and I had the honor of being a co-leader of a pilot project with the Bush Foundation doing inclusivity and diversity training in the Dakotas. We all have a role to play to make our community more equitable  and I feel the park system can be an important partner in creating more opportunities for everyone. Parks are places where we can all come together as a community.  And that’s one of the reasons why North Commons Park is a top priority for us right now.

Tell us more about that. The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is about to begin a capital campaign on behalf of North Commons Park, which will be the largest investment ever made in a Minneapolis neighborhood park. 

Yes, the park needs upgrades and the community deserves it, but this is a community-driven project in every way, which is key. North Commons is going to be the center of a constellation of terrific youth development opportunities at North High School, the YMCA, V3, the Capri Theater, Juxtaposition Arts–all of these exciting things happening right now in North Minneapolis. The Parks Foundation did not come up with this idea–it’s a vision the community has developed, and that’s now coming together with aninnovative design plan. We see our role as supporting the aspirations we see coming out of our communities, coming out of the park board, and then leveraging philanthropy to elevate it to the next level. 

Your grandfather Lloyd Hale served on the commission that created what’s now the Three Rivers Park system, your father, Roger Hale, helped launch the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden partnership with Walker Art Center in the 1980s, and your own family has even included the parks in your estate plan. Do the parks just run in your blood? 

Having a sense of generational connection through the parks is probably familiar to a lot of Minneapolis families, not just mine. The parks are an amazing asset to our community, and certainly one of the most beloved. But it’s also true that parks have not enjoyed the same philanthropic support as other cultural institutions, which is something that the Minneapolis Parks Foundation is committed to changing. Just like the arts, which also receive government support, we need individual philanthropic dollars to bring our parks up to the next level. We have the opportunity to encourage people to think about that, perhaps people who have not been asked before, to contribute to a park system that is the foundation for so many of the things that make Minneapolis special. It’s a case I’m very happy to make, because I find this mission so compelling. 

The Minneapolis park system just celebrated its 140th anniversary. What surprises or amazes you about our parks? 

So many things. That it’s the largest youth employer in the city. That it’s an independently elected body, with a budget of $140 million–one of the largest government entities in the whole state. I just love trees, and so one thing that I find fascinating is that parks are the stewards of our urban forest canopy, responsible for 200,000 boulevard trees and more than 400,000 trees in our parks. 

It’s the middle of winter–what’s your favorite destination for a snowy walk?

Last week, while the last remaining snow clung to the still frozen patches, I saw a little running water peeking out as it headed toward Minnehaha Falls. Someone was taking a picture by the stone bridge a child was throwing sticks into the creek to watch them slip under the ice. That connection with nature is a quintessential Minneapolis parks experience.

Image courtesy of MPRB.

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