Feature Article - November 2005
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Handy Solutions to Common Problems

By Stacy St. Clair, Jenny E. Beeh and Kelli Anderson

How To Create a Multigenerational Park

Parks can be more than just kid's play. They can—and should be—partners in promoting a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages.

As such, many progressive recreation managers have turned to creating multigenerational destination parks where the entire family can enjoy the equipment. These parks help combat childhood obesity, provide teens with positive physical activities, and give parents and grandparents an opportunity to exercise while spending quality time with their children.

Active older adults can benefit greatly from multigenerational parks. Multigenerational parks help seniors maintain their health and delay the onset of diseases and disabilities. Studies show seniors who exercise reduce their chances of developing, among other ailments, heart disease, diabetes and low bone density. These parks provide great, low-density ways to stay in shape and remain healthy.

In addition to health benefits, multigenerational parks offer an excellent chance to plan for the future. U.S. Census Bureau statistics suggest roughly 40 percent of the population will be older than 50 by the year 2030. The data also predicts the percentage of the population older than 65 will jump from the current 12 percent to 20 percent in the next 25 years. Recreation managers would be well-advised to address the needs of this growing and influential segment of the population.


You cannot build a multigenerational park until you understand what one isn't: It's not just a landscaped patch open to everyone. Rather, these parks provide unique and unusual outdoor physical activities to toddlers, children, teens, adults and seniors. They also create some passive leisure time activities, such as walking and environmental education.


Any park aimed at providing senior recreation should include walking paths or trails. Walking is an ideal fitness option for the elderly because it comes with low physical risks. The paths can be enhanced by adding equipment designed to provide fun and challenging activities to all users. The elements of the park should bolster social skills, as well as physical strength, balance and aerobic activity. The equipment—sometimes referred to as wellness stations—should offer patrons different challenge levels.


When you have a multigenerational park, local seniors need to know it's safe to exercise there. Studies show the majority of inactive seniors don't exercise because they fear injury. Make sure promotional materials stress the stations have non-slip treads and grab bars. Older patrons also should be assured that there are different challenge levels, so they can stay within their comfort level while working out.


Once the park has been built, use programs that will draw in the community. Previous generations of fitness trails have failed because they were designed for ultra-fit patrons and because people used the trails informally without any promotion or programming. Take the time to explain the park and trails to patrons and stress the all-ages approach to fitness. Introduce the path to users via contests and games that encourage usage.


In addition to offering low-density activities such as a walking path, consider installing features such as skateparks and climbing walls. Not only do these diversions appeal to younger patrons, they provide fun recreation opportunities for young-at-heart adults who prefer a more high-energy workout. When selecting a climbing boulder or designing a skatepark, be sure both can be enjoyed by people with various skill and fitness levels.


Most importantly, educate the public on the health benefits. With the help of signs and printed materials, encourage users to keep a record of their progress. Consider purchasing pedometers and loaning them to patrons. Promote walking by helping them set daily and weekly goals that gradually increases step counts until they reach their optimum activity level.

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