inPERSPECTIVE / PROGRAMMING: Outdoor Activities That Have Your Residents Buzzing


From pickleball and treasure hunts to fun with four-legged friends, outdoor recreation trends are bringing people together.

By Kathryn Boutwell

Trends come, and trends go. We all remember Pokémon GO (what was that anyway?) and the magic of stand-up paddleboarding taking lakes and rivers by storm in the mid-2010s. Recreation departments that stay on-trend can benefit from capturing the enthusiasm of current crazes that are motivating park-goers and families to get out and get active. Today’s top trends can take advantage of your existing courts and enable people to bond with the newest (and furriest) additions to their families. What might complement your current catalog? Try them all and see what scores a home run.


It’s like small-scale tennis—or large-scale pingpong. While an obvious oversimplification, that statement of pickleball being a happy middle ground speaks to why the sport is trending. It seems to have found a sweet spot in its broad appeal, accessibility for players of all ages, simplicity and affordability. You’ve seen or heard of a local trendy restaurant pairing sandwiches and pints with pickleball courts and paddles, and you have noticed people of all ages flocking to it. Residents across demographics are itching to find new and fun ways to live a more active, social and healthy lifestyle. Accessible games like pickleball are the perfect combination of fun, competition and accessibility. And most importantly, it’s easy and cost-friendly to implement. You can utilize and modify existing facilities like basketball and tennis courts, vacant lots, gym floors, auditoriums and community buildings with little up-front cost.

The Bike Craze

The end of 2020 saw $6.9 billion spent on bicycles and accessories, increasing $6.1 million year-over-year, according to the World Economic Forum. More people are riding bikes than ever, so it’s time to ask yourself how your community can bring avid bikers together. Could your community host a bike race, duathlon or triathlon? Could you form a bike club that unites enthusiasts for guided weekend rides? What about parent-child bike decorating contests decided by your local council? For all the community members who have a stationary bike but find monthly subscriptions to popular virtual classes cost-prohibitive, could you offer an affordable virtual bike class taught by a local instructor?

Photo Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts that send people following clues to find local hidden gems are booming, even among brands, nonprofits and private sector companies. No one knows the best-kept outdoor secrets like your parks and recreation leaders. Create an on-demand scavenger hunt program that the public can download and complete at any time. Encourage them to post photos along the way and share them on social media with a custom hashtag. The extra promotions will encourage other families, friends and neighbors to get out and give their mystery-hunting skills a test.


Another popular pandemic activity was birdwatching. Families quarantining inside found themselves bonding with feathered visitors and wanting to educate themselves on their unique communication styles. Partner with your local bird song expert to offer your community a bird song class. Accessible and intriguing for people of all ages—and with no prior experience needed—bird song classes also offer intergenerational benefits while people learn about the unique feathery flocks that populate your skies.

Bark in the (Little League) Park

Twenty-three million American households acquired a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic and love ways to incorporate them into their social activities. Bark in the park events have become popular with minor league baseball clubs looking to find unique theme nights for their lengthy schedules. Why not capitalize on the popular trend but make it more accessible by inviting families to bring their fur babies to a local Little League event?

Cornhole, Anyone?

The sports journalists at ESPN have postured that Cornhole (yes—the backyard game in which you throw a beanbag into a hole drilled into a slanted wooden platform) could be the next Olympic craze. The network even airs professional Cornhole tournaments. Families are already tossing the beanbags around their backyards, but seeing the sport legitimized on national television undoubtedly makes recreational players feel the pressure of competition. So, bring it to them with a local tournament that can become an annual staple in your seasonal schedule.

Go Retro

Pay attention to trends from past eras cycling back through modern times and ask yourself if they could portend an opportunity for modern programming. Driven in no small part due to fashionable new roller-skate products hitting the physical and digital shelves, old-school roller-skating is on the rise. Bring Friday nights at the skating rink back to your community. Such events will appeal to nostalgic millennials and Gen Zers, and Zillennials looking for something new and trendy to add to their Instagram stories.

Tying Activities Together

Combine these activities in unique ways to foster engagement between different demographic groups. Bringing people from different interests and ages together to bond and grow a healthier and stronger community is one of the best outcomes you can hope for as a parks and recreation department.     RM



Kathryn Boutwell joined CivicPlus’ implementation team as a solutions manager for the recreation management solution, CivicRec. After helping many clients launch successfully with CivicRec, she now helps existing clients take full advantage of all the features and functionality CivicRec offers. Her CivicRec clients see her as a valuable partner to their critical parks and recreation operations.