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Feature Article - June 2017

Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation



Despite struggling with changing expectations and tightened budgets, our parks respondents have shown an increasing sense of optimism over the past several years. Even with staffing challenges and the difficulty of maintaining aging facilities, these professionals are happy with their work, and look forward to growing their organizations, with a growing number planning to build new facilities.

According to a report from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) highlighting the associations "Americans' Engagement with Parks Survey," a majority of Americans feel that parks and recreation are important services delivered by local government, providing people a place and a means to get physically active, gather with family and friends, and connect with nature. NRPA's survey found that nine in 10 Americans agree that parks and recreation are important services delivered by local government, and that three in four Americans agree that NRPA's three pillars—Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity, represent what they see as priorities for their local park and recreation agency. Seven in 10 say they are more likely to vote for local politicians who make park and recreation funding a priority, and three-quarters of Americans support increased local spending for park and recreation agencies. The support for local parks spans different income strata, household types, age groups and political affiliations. (Visit www.nrpa.org for an ongoing series of "Park Pulse" survey results and other information that demonstrates the purpose and value of parks and recreation, and support the professionals who drive this crucial industry.)

In this section, we'll take a look at the trends among our parks and recreation respondents. Respondents from this type of organization made up 41.1 percent of the survey population.

As is the case with the general survey population, the largest percentage of parks respondents (29 percent) were from the Midwest. The next largest number was from the West, at 22.9 percent. The South Atlantic was home to 21.8 percent of parks respondents, while 13.7 percent were from the Northeast. The smallest number of U.S. parks respondents were from the South Central region, home to 12.6 percent. Another 1.7 percent of parks respondents were located outside of the United States.

Parks respondents were more likely than non-parks respondents to be from suburban and rural communities. Some 45 percent of parks respondents reported in from the suburbs, compared with 40.7 percent of non-parks respondents. And while 25.1 percent of parks respondents represented urban communities, 23 percent of non-parks respondents were from urban areas. In contrast, less than three in 10 (29.9 percent) parks respondents were from rural communities, compared with 36.3 percent of non-parks respondents.

Parks respondents served a larger population than any other type of respondents, reporting an average population reached of 132,800. Parks respondents were much more likely to report that they served a population of at least 100,000 people, with 29 percent of parks reporting that they reach a population of at least 100,000. This compares with 17.1 percent of non-parks respondents. Conversely, while 31.4 percent of parks respondents said they reach a population of 20,000 or less, 59.5 percent of non-parks respondents reach a population of this size.

On average, parks respondents said they manage 11.1 facilities, slightly higher than in 2016, when the average was 10.3. Around three in 10 (30.3 percent) parks respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 42.) This compared with less than one in 10 (9.6 percent) non-parks respondents. Conversely, parks respondents were far less likely than others to manage just a single facility. Some 18.5 percent of parks respondents said they manage just one facility, compared with 48.3 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 53 percent of parks respondents said they primarily serve all ages, just 31.2 percent of non-parks respondents reach an all-ages audience. And, while 26.8 percent of parks respondents said their primary audience is children ages 4 to 12, just 13.8 percent of non-parks respondents serve 4-to-12-year-olds as their primary audience.