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Feature Article - June 2016

Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation



The outlook among parks respondents has gotten increasingly more positive over the past several years, and 2016 is no exception. Revenues are stabilizing or increasing for the vast majority, the percentage planning new construction is growing, and people are using park-run facilities in growing numbers.

Local and regional park agencies have a tremendous economic impact. The National Recreation and Park Association's study in "The Economic Impact of Local Parks" quantifies that impact, stating that park agencies generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost 1 million jobs in 2013 through operations and capital spending. And, of course, parks not only contribute to the economic well-being of their communities and the country, they also provide a host of other benefits: raising property values, improving quality of life and health, environmental conservation.

In this section, we'll take a look at the trends in parks and recreation. Respondents from this type of organization made up 41.9 percent of the survey population.

As is the case with the general survey population, the largest percentage of parks respondents (28.9 percent) were from the Midwest. Around a quarter (25.4 percent) were from the West. The South Atlantic was home to 17.7 percent of these respondents, while 16.7 percent were from the Northeast. The smallest number of U.S. parks respondents were from the South Central region, home to 10.9 percent. Just 0.3 percent were located outside of the United States.

Nearly half (49.8 percent) of parks respondents were from suburban communities, making them more likely than non-parks respondents to be from the suburbs. Just 41.9 percent of non-parks respondents were from suburban communities. Parks respondents were also slightly more likely than non-parks respondents to be from urban areas, with 21.6 percent of parks respondents reporting from urban communities, compared with 20.7 percent of non-parks respondents. In contrast, less than three in 10 (28.6 percent) parks respondents were from rural communities, compared with 37.3 percent of non-parks respondents.

Parks respondents served a larger population than any other type of respondent, reporting an average of 105,300. Parks respondents were almost twice as likely as non-park respondents to serve populations of 100,000 or more, with 24 percent of parks reporting a population of at least 100,000, while just 12.4 percent of non-parks respondents served a population of this size. Conversely, just 31.1 percent of parks respondents said they serve a population of less than 20,000, compared with 57.9 percent of non-parks respondents.

On average, parks respondents said they manage 10.3 facilities, a number that has been very steady over time. More than a quarter (27.6 percent) of parks respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 42.) This compares with just 10 percent of non-parks respondents. Conversely, parks respondents were far less likely than others to manage just a single facility. Some 17.5 percent of parks respondents said they manage just one facility, compared with 49.3 percent of non-parks respondents.

Parks respondents were much more likely than non-parks respondents to serve an all-ages audience or an audience of children ages 4 to 12. While 55.7 percent of parks respondents said they primarily serve all ages, just 30.7 percent of non-parks respondents serve an all-ages audience. And, while 26.1 percent of parks respondents said their primary audience is made up of children between 4 and 12 years old, just 12.8 percent of non-parks respondents serve 4-to-12-year-olds as their primary audience.

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