People + Parks: The Difference Maker

By Elizabeth McGuire

Who is David Rockwood?

The Eagle Scout

If you meet David Rockwood on the Barton Creek Greenbelt on a sunny fall day, be prepared to hear some philosophizing, some ranting and more than a few references to Boy Scouts.

“So you were an Eagle Scout?” you may ask him. “Am. I AM an Eagle Scout,” he will reply as he bends down to pick up a marble-sized fossil that he spotted just off the trail.

The legendary scout rank is just one clue to the deeply ingrained respect and affection that Rockwood carries for the outdoors. It’s a connection that began in his early years growing up in San Antonio and that continues today through his job as VP of Community Relations for GSD&M, one of the Austin Parks Foundation’s largest corporate donors and the 2017 Partner of the Year.

Early Love for Nature

Rockwood grew up in a large family—he is the 8th of nine children. His favorite memories revolve around their annual camping trip on the Frio River.

“We would go in the summer, when of course it was brutally hot,” he said, “but that just meant you camped as close to the river as possible…and the moment you woke up you hit the water.”

At home in Austin, Rockwood spends as much time as possible hiking or mountain biking on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. He calls the place a sacred escape from the weight of everyday life.

“There’s a lot of healing here, that’s for sure,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a great place to ride hard and blow off all the pent-up stress, but other times I come for that peace of mind and solitude.”

The Difference Maker

Rockwood is grateful that his job gives him the opportunity to directly impact the outdoor spaces he loves. However, his work goes beyond parks. Rockwood recently oversaw the GSD&M team that helped pull together the Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas benefit concert in only a few weeks. It’s no surprise that Rockwood’s boss likes to call him the Director of Making a Difference.

For APF, this difference-making has meant countless hours of GSD&M’s design skills, hands-on volunteers, and more than $10,000 in donations.

Though he is a community relations veteran, Rockwood sees his efforts as just beginning. His greatest frustration in public parks are the endless piles of trash, and he’s determined to shift habits.

“For the most part, people are now picking up after their dogs,” he said. “So why are we still seeing four or five pounds of Whataburger trash down by Sculpture Falls? There’s no quick solution except you’ve got to keep educating people. If you go into these places and you pick up one piece of trash, and the next person who comes down the trail sees you and they pick up a piece…well that can eventually create a big psychological shift.”

His motivation, he believes, is pretty simple.

“I guess it goes back to the whole scout thing again,” he said with a grin. “Do a good turn daily. And leave something better than you found it.”


People Plus Parks is a series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.