Feature Article - June 2010
Find a printable version here


A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

State parks have been hit particularly hard. One respondent said, "Nationwide, states are cutting state park budgets due to state budget challenges."

Park respondents were the most likely to indicate they were planning to make staffing cuts in 2010. While the majority (71.8 percent) said they were planning to maintain current staff levels, more than one in five (20.7 percent) said they were planning cuts, and just 7.5 percent were planning to add staff. Anecdotally, many have also reported that there are hiring freezes in place, leaving the burden of additional work on those who remain when a worker retires or resigns.

"Staffing issues are of greatest concern," one respondent said. "We have a council that used to be 'pro parks and recreation,' and now they tend to look at it as a hindrance. We are back in the educating-the-council mode again to have them understand what we can offer rather than outsource and make it more efficient and cost-effective for the citizens. Most outsourcing of programming costs the user more in both the short term and the long term in this area."

Another said, "If the revenues are less than the level of services we can provide, the community will be hurt as well. Staff can only do so much cutting before it really hurts the maintenance level of the parks."

The average parks respondent's organization employs 153.9 people. This average was driven higher by the substantial percentage (23.6 percent) who said their organization employs 200 or more workers. Nearly half (48.5 percent) said they employ between 11 and 100 workers. The average number of workers that park organizations with plans to hire were planning to add in 2010 was 50.1: 6 full-time; 6.5 part-time; 11.4 seasonal; 22.2 volunteers; and 4 "other" workers.

Park respondents were more likely than many other respondents to require specific types of certification from some of their employees. These credentials are what one might expect from these organizations: pesticide application certification (42.5 percent of parks respondents requiring certification of any kind require this one, compared with just 26 percent of all respondents); playground safety certification (33.5 percent vs. 16.2 percent of all respondents); turf/grounds management certification (16.6 percent vs. 10.8 percent); and the Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP) credential (18.3 percent vs. 9 percent).

Playgrounds and Nature Deficit Disorder

Playgrounds are commonly found in parks across the country, and in fact, were the most common feature included in our parks respondents' facilities this year. The majority—84.7 percent—said they currently include playgrounds. They also are among the most commonly planned additions over the next three years, with 26.6 percent of those with plans to add more features to their facilities in the next three years indicating that they are planning to add playgrounds.

Anecdotally, many have reported a growing trend toward "natural" play areas or traditional playground equipment that incorporates natural colors and acts as a gateway to nature. Many respondents also referred to the prevalence of "nature deficit disorder" and the need to get more children outside and into their environment for play and learning:

"Youth wellness will be a bigger push for us now than before," one respondent said. "We are planning a nature preschool and are now designing a nature playscape area to encourage wellness in young children. Research showing problems from 'nature deficit disorder' in children is our main reason for this new direction."

Another respondent summed up one of the reasons for the growing concern about children playing in nature: "Kids are spending less time outdoors, so they are not developing an appreciation for the natural environment. We are concerned about that generation making decisions about the natural environment when they are adults without having that connection to nature."