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Gnome Small Feat: A Stewardship Program Gains Traction Using Their Wits, Social Media, and Some Garden Friends

Posted By Amanda Parsons, Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2019

By Amanda Parsons


Marketing requires more than just a good product - you need to stand out from the crowd.  It makes sense, then, that the Lake Oswego stewardship program used their smallest, cutest, friends to get the attention of the community.

Bryant Woods Park

For those who maintain natural areas, it is no surprise that community buy-in is an important aspect to maintain those spaces.  Friends groups and dedicated volunteers are certainly a starting point.  But with volunteers coming and going, and steep competition for their time, a stewardship program must find a way to be seen.

The city of Lake Oswego, Oregon, has a small stewardship program built almost entirely on the strength of its volunteers.  In the off-season, volunteers can be found removing invasive ivy in the various parks around the city.

This tough job leaves only the most dedicated citizens to help with removal.  Often, these volunteers are retirees or older adults.  While the work they do is valued, it begs the question: how do we reach youth to establish a future for stewardship?

“We kept hearing from our volunteers that they needed a time out – that we needed to recruit new families,” said Megan Big John, Crew Leader for Parks and Open Spaces.  “That is how this all started.”

Lake Oswego’s Stewardship program began looking for ways to outreach to the community.  The goals were simple:  Teach people the importance of the work and encourage the next generation to want to participate.

The first step was to take out a newspaper advertisement in the local paper.  Then, the parks graphic designer added a bit of whimsy to the ad.

“It started very grassroots,” claimed Big John.  “A gnome image was included in the newspaper ad about the stewardship program.”

Not originally part of any formal marketing plan, the connection between gnomes and stewardship grew organically.

“Gnomes are such inviting characters, I thought they would make great representation for the division,” said Dave Arpin, the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Digital and Graphic Media Specialist and creator of the gnome idea.

Eventually, the gnome concept made its way through the city – in a big way.

“We thought, what can we give away?” said Big John.  “That turned into stickers and then temporary tattoos, all with the gnomes.  Then we started hearing other divisions in the department were asking for these gnomes to give away at concerts and events.  There was this catch.”

From one gnome came three and each character was developed. 

Stewardship Gnomes

Then the stewardship program had an idea.

“In 2017 we had the idea to invite the community members to name the gnomes,” said Babs Hamachek, Lake Oswego Parks Stewardship Coordinator. 

Attending several community events, the team collected 200 entries and a panel of judges selected the winners.

“We celebrated the winners at an event, and each person shared their story for how they came up with their gnome names.” Hamachek said.

Naming the gnomes was a form of community buy-in that resonated with Lake Oswego.  The three gnomes became the mascots of the Lake Oswego Stewardship program.

It also served to increase participation from families in the stewardship program.

“When I go to work parties, I set out the gnomes for the kids.  I teach them about the sword ferns we are planting.  They love it!” Hamachek is grinning as she relays the excitement she sees from children. 

“We also have these discovery buckets,” said Big John.  “They are a sand pail with a spoon, a magnifying glass, a paint brush, a bug catcher… we can have parents participating at the work party and kids can take these tools and start digging in the dirt or looking under a log.”

It seems the stewardship team has thought of everything.  But as time rolled on, the stewardship program faced a problem.

“In the summer, this is the stewardship lull time.  Our work parties don’t occur.  So how do we get people to come out and visit, even if they aren’t volunteers?” asked Big John.

The stewardship program leaned on the success and popularity of the gnomes.  Taking to social media, they announced that the gnomes were hiding in the parks around the city. 

Hamachek spent the summer hiding the gnomes in parks.  A park or trail entrance would include a sign providing information about the gnomes, the stewardship project, and a hashtag to share on social media when a gnome was found.

“It is important to inform,” said Hamachek. “In addition, we would post a sign after the gnomes were moved, ‘the gnomes have roamed’.  It is a soft close so people know to look at the next park.”

And when someone found a gnome?  Take a selfie with the gnome and use #LOparksgnomes on Facebook or Instagram.

A social media campaign not only created awareness about the stewardship program, but it also got people outside and into parks. 

“Inevitably, I would be out in a park, collecting gnomes to move to the next place, and down the trail comes a family with kids.  I’d ask what they’re up to.  And they would say, ‘We’re coming to look for the gnomes, it’s our favorite thing to do.’” Hamachek reflected. 

This story is one of many she could tell about the public relating their familiarity with the gnomes.  Whether it be at a farmer’s market, work party, or out and about, she runs into people who know about the gnomes.

“We used the gnomes to attract ourselves to youth.  Whether it was to get them to come to a work party, or just know about the natural areas,” said Big John

“We know it works!  We’ve seen an uptick in youth at volunteer parties.”

In the end, Lake Oswego ended up with a campaign that both educated the community, got them out into parks, and increased participation in the stewardship program. 

“Getting the attention of these families,” relays Hamachek, “having them discover a new natural area… that is an epic win.”


Read all about the Stewardship Gnomes and check out the fun and interactive website.

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La Grande Parks & Recreation says...
Posted Tuesday, April 23, 2019
What a great idea to connect with youth!
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