Guest Column - March 2007
Find a printable version here

Community Impact

The power of multi-generational destination parks

By Matt Miller

icture your neighborhood playground. It's probably located at a park or a school, and has remained relatively the same for years. Although playgrounds may rarely change, the playground industry is far from stagnant. In fact, continual research on the benefits of play and fitness influences playground construction and trends yearly.

One trend in playground design is the multigenerational destination park-a custom-designed park created to promote play, fun and fitness for people of all ages and abilities. Unlike standard playgrounds, which are built solely with children in mind, multigenerational destination parks provide an outdoor environment with multiple activities to encourage every member of a community to use the park's amenities, leading to more active and connected lives. Common recreational structures include innovative playgrounds for younger children, climbing structures such as boulders or walls for middle-aged children, skateparks where adolescents can practice skating or biking tricks, and wellness stations arranged along walking paths to help older adults enhance muscular, cardiovascular and respiratory wellness.

As interest in destination parks continues to grow, park planners are turning to recently developed parks as models, such as the Lewisburg Area Recreation Park in Lewisburg, Pa. The Lewisburg park is a state-of-the-art facility complete with multiple playgrounds for varying ages, a skatepark, climbing structures and wellness stations, coupled with a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Since its grand opening, the park has become a magnet for the community. During weekends park officials have reported seeing more than 1,000 visitors per day. Some kids spend their entire days there, not wanting to leave because of all the available activities. The park also has drawn visitors from surrounding communities, as well as tourists from other parts of the state who want to experience this new breed of destination recreation.

Although the extensive layout of the destination park is a great attraction for visitors, a number of benefits make it an appealing component for the well-being of an entire community.

Wellness awareness

The initial effect the Lewisburg Area Recreation Park had on its community was greater awareness of and interest in living healthy lifestyles. Studies find that people are more inclined to stay committed to regular physical activity if they have a network of friends participating together. This is especially true among older adults who might not be as confident in their physical abilities, or among teenagers who are learning challenging new stunts.

Organizations such as the Lewisburg Area Recreation Authority (LARA), which was instrumental in developing the Lewisburg park, are helping citizens utilize their local parks with educational programs that provide instruction on how to properly use the park's equipment. Months after the grand opening of the Lewisburg destination park, LARA worked with a local hospital to start a LifeTrail Club. The program grants participants access to health lectures and personal orientation sessions designed to familiarize them with wellness equipment on the walking paths. Ideally, outreach programs like these can introduce residents to the park's equipment, making them feel more comfortable using it and helping promote lifelong wellness for park users of all ages.