A Student’s Citizens Forum Project
by Shodai Inose
When I announced the concept of the Belmont Staycation, some people snickered at the name and doubted that we would have any success. Well, that didn’t stop me.
When we first began this project in June, during my internship with Anne-Marie Lambert, a director of the Belmont Citizens Forum (BCF), to lay out
we laid out a few major goals. We wanted to learn how to increase interest in local Belmont sights and businesses, and how to reduce energy use from vacation travel by substituting a family “staycation” in Belmont. We were also hoping for an increase in visits to the BCF website and Facebook page, and to increase awareness of the BCF Newsletter among families with children.
For our first goal, we solicited ideas in July and published an article in the July/August BCF Newsletter about the program at the beginning of August. We tried a number of public outreach activities. We initiated a staycation competition. We distributed more than 200 “passports” so that people would check off various suggested activities, and started posting our own digital postcards on Facebook. I was surprised that not many people decided to return the passports or surveys (especially since we offered a raffle), but we did see a significant increase in traffic to the BCF website and Facebook page. The article announcing the staycation was the most viewed article on the BCF website, as measured by average views per day. We promoted many businesses through our program, and several viewers clicked through to those businesses and hopefully participated in a few of the activities.
We knew it was highly doubtful anyone would give up their August vacation plans for a last-minute staycation, but . . .
We knew it was highly doubtful anyone would give up their August vacation plans for a last-minute staycation, but we believe some people did take part in our “greener” activities. We know there was increased interest in the trail maps on the BCF website, and our kickoff picnic was a success.
Many people around town who had never before heard of the Belmont Citizens Forum participated in our project. One woman’s response: “I am motivated by the program that you are promoting! I just decided to do this today when I found your card at the library.” We had another survey respondent say “receiving the Belmont staycation requests for. . . suggestions actually inspired me to take some time off work and do a staycation.”
On August 13, our Staycation 2016 picnic was attended by more than 40 guests. Events ranged from croquet to meditation circles for teenagers. A popular activity was cooling down with popsicles from an antique ice chest, an historical artifact that interested many people. One of the greatest hits was the tours of the Wellington Station. Visitors were very surprised that the inside was much larger than expected.
What I Learned About Belmont
Did you know Belmont has a waterfall? It’s part of Beaver Brook Reservation, on Mill Street. Right now, the waterfall is just a trickle because of the statewide drought. Throughout this project, I got to learn so much about the local geography, culture, and businesses. I had no idea that Belmont had so many spas and massage parlors. I also was unaware that Belmont had to give up Fresh Pond to Cambridge because of waste coming from a slaughterhouse (yuck!). It was interesting to talk with participants who didn’t know about things to do in neighborhoods other than their own. Even in a small town like Belmont, there’s still a lot to explore and learn. The best way to discover our town is by taking a few days to relax and maybe plan your staycation (or take ours).
More Lessons Learned
We learned the most from the survey and about what could influence them to plan a staycation. Many respondents wanted fun and compelling local activities, such as concerts, food, and festivals. Other reasons people cited for local vacations included staging a family reunion in Belmont, wanting to stay in town while their house is being renovated, or just saving money.
We learned a significant number of people plan their summer vacations in the winter or spring, long before we published the idea.
Not everyone seemed to enjoy the idea of substituting a staycation for their typical vacation. One survey respondent suggested that “maybe instead of trying to stop people from living their lives, [the Belmont Citizens Forum] should offer them ecofriendly alternatives. Staycations are not vacation alternatives any more than Hummers are smart car alternatives.”
On the survey, we asked how important it was to explore new places on a vacation. Our survey takers responded with an average of 7.4 out of 10. On the other hand, when we asked them to rate how important it was to be ecofriendly on vacation, the average was only a 4.86 out of 10. We also received a suggestion that perhaps we should leave the ecofriendliness out of staycation and just focus on the fun of each activity.
Although it was only a small survey sample, many people aren’t willing to give up their vacation habits just to be more ecofriendly.
I had so much fun getting to work with the BCF this summer and learned so much. I learned how to write an engaging and informative survey with the help of an expert in the field, talked to local journalists about this project, and left my comfort zone and met so many new people in Belmont by visiting the Payson Park Music Festival. I helped plan my first “big” event (the picnic), which went more successfully than I hoped. I experienced setting a budget and having to work within it.
What could have made this experience even better? Having more people participate. However, we learned for next year and we got people to try a few new activities in Belmont. I believe that the staycation does has potential to work in future years. It would be nice to find a way for residents to share the “hidden gems” of Belmont.
It’s not too late to check out our postcards or send suggestions for next year to firstname.lastname@example.org. If anyone might be planning an event in the summer of 2017, please contact us.
Shodai Inose is a junior at Belmont High School.
*Prize winners were not finalized at the publication time for this article. Find the winners’ names here.
Thank You for Supporting Staycation 2016
Our August Belmont Staycation 2016 would have never been possible without the help of many. Our sincere thanks to the Belmontonian and Belmont Citizens Herald for publishing our articles and covering our project. We also thank the Belmont Historical Society and the Belmont Woman’s Club for their donations to the picnic, the Wellington Station tours and the croquet set, respectively. We are grateful to Champions Sporting Goods and Groundwork Yoga + Wellness for donating prizes for our Staycation raffle.* We also thank the Payson Park Music Festival, who let us promote the Staycation on stage. Thank you to the Belmont Media Center’s volunteers who helped us get footage of our Staycation picnic. Thanks to Stephanie Woerner for her advice about designing the survey. Finally, thanks to everyone who took our surveys, sent a passport, and/or posted a postcard.