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Alexis Larsen is the new Chief of Philanthropy for Five Rivers MetroParks

Alexis Larsen headshot.png
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Alexis Larsen Headshot

Five Rivers Metroparks has a new Chief of Philanthropy. Her name is Alexis Larsen. She’s a Wright State graduate and longtime Dayton resident who has worked for the Dayton Art Institute and for the Dayton Daily News. In fact, she’s still the paper’s restaurant critic.

You might be wondering why a public park system needs a chief of philanthropy? Well, about 80% of the parks’ funding comes through taxes. But the other 20%? That comes from philanthropy. WYSO Environmental Reporter Chris Welter spoke with Larsen to learn more.

Chris: Why does a public park system need a chief of philanthropy? I think people generally think that parks are supported by taxes.

Alexis: They are supported by taxes hugely and we're very lucky for that levy money. But there is more work to be done. You have deferred maintenance. You have programming that the public asked for and so there's additional money that needs to be found to help support some of these projects and then work that needs to be done that the levy money can't pay for, and that's really what that is: It's to strengthen the work that the levy money helps us already do.

I think the kitchen at Wesleyan MetroPark is a great example that would not have gotten paid for without the foundation money. So that's a kitchen at Wesleyan MetroParks at Adventure Central that's going to help feed our kids. It also provides those kids with access to nature that's so important. So I think finding ways to do the things that we want to do, but financially we can't right now. That's why the foundation exists. The levy money supports our parks. It does keep them open, but there are other programs and amenities we want to offer the public and that's what this money helps with.

Chris: Tell me about the Access to Nature program. Why is that important?

Alexis: The Access to Nature program is making sure that we're letting anyone that's a Montgomery County resident who wants to experience nature, or a nature program, or a camp if you're a kid, have the opportunity to do so. This provides the opportunity for something that they wouldn't ordinarily probably be able to pay for. So these discounts are really tremendous in terms of helping provide access to every resident of our community, no matter what their income level is.

Larsen kayaking in Dayton.
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Larsen kayaking in Dayton.

Chris: As someone who's worked and lived in the Miami Valley for a while, I'm sure that you're aware there's a lot of good causes where people can donate. Why should people give their money to metro parks?

Alexis: I think people should consider giving a gift to metro parks this holiday season or next year, or whenever because of the amount of people it affects. These parks, these systems are open to every resident of Montgomery County, and that's huge. That's a wide, wide swath of people and then obviously, residents from outside the county come to enjoy them as well. So I think when you really look at the number of people that you can positively impact, your money goes a really long way. So that would be one reason and I think the environment, nothing's more important than our land and conserving it and making sure that we're creating the land needed for the species that live here. The impact is really great when you give to metro parks.

Chris: Back in the day at the Dayton Daily you used to do a Lounge Lizards column where you looked at under-appreciated places to get good food and drinks in the Miami Valley. What are some of the under-appreciated MetroParks?

Alexis:  I have a tough time answering that because I think that people tend to go to the MetroParks that are near them. So if I'm talking about it, it would be the MetroParks for me that are 20 miles away from my house. But I think for other people, if you live in Germantown, other metro parks are going to be different for you versus me. So I would challenge anybody that's listening to make sure that they're getting out to a MetroPark they haven't been to before. If you haven't played Disc Golf, it's free and fun. If you haven't kayaked, it's out there. I mean, there's all kinds of ways to adventure and have these incredibly magic moments with nature right in your own backyard. So the metro parks you haven't visited, I would say, are the ones that you should maybe try to get to this holiday season or in the new year.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.