Feature Article - June 2021
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Trends in Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation


A majority of park respondents (94.7%) said that they form partnerships with outside organizations, representing virtually no change from 2020, when 94.9% formed such partnerships. This compares with just 82.9% of non-park respondents who said they partner with other organizations. More than seven in 10 park respondents said they partner with local schools (72.6%) and local government (71.3%). Other more common partners for parks include: nonprofit organizations (59.5%); state government (40%); and corporate or local businesses (39.5%). (See Figure 44.)

Revenues & Expenditures

Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on revenues for almost everyone. Parks are no exception, with nearly two-thirds (65.5%) reporting that their revenues in 2020 had fallen. Another 19.5% said there had been no change to revenues, and just 15% reported an increase. (See Figure 45.)

In 2021, park respondents were much more likely to expect revenues to be on the rise. Some 39.3% said they expect revenues to be up this year, while 37% expect no change, and 23.7% still expect revenues to fall. Looking forward, 2022 shows dramatic improvement in expectations, with a full 62.3% of park respondents expecting increasing revenues, 28.9% expecting no change, and just 8.8% expecting a decrease—much more in line with the typical experience around revenues in pre-pandemic years, though with an obvious and expected boost in those who believe revenues will be on the rise.

Park respondents reported a 19.5% decrease to their average operating expenditure from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, park respondents spent an average of $2,310,000 on their operations, while in 2020 they spent $1,860,000. Looking forward, these respondents projected no change in 2021, but in 2022 they are expecting their operating costs to rise 4.8%, to an average of $1,950,000.

On average, park respondents report that they recover 43.3% of their operating costs via revenues, representing virtually no change from 2020, when they recovered an average of 43.8% of their operating costs via revenue. This number fluctuates over time, and reached a high of 45.1% in 2016. Well over a third (35.8%) of park respondents said that their revenues cover 30% or less of their operating costs (compared with 22.7% of non-park respondents). Another 18.8% recover 31% to 50%, and 18.2% recover 51% to 70% of their operating costs via revenues. Less than one-fifth (17.1%) of park respondents said they recover 71% or more of their operating costs via revenues. This compares with 40.6% of non-park respondents.

Park respondents were slightly more likely than non-park respondents to report that they had taken action to reduce their operating expenses. Some 91.2% of park respondents said they had done so, up from 80.6% in 2020. This compares with 89.3% of non-park respondents (up from 81.8%). The most common actions park respondents had taken to try to reduce their operating costs included: cutting programs and services (59.7%, compared with 52.6% of non-park respondents); temporarily closing facilities (56.9% vs. 43.9%); reducing staff (55.9% vs. 57%); reducing hours of operation (52.9% vs. 52.6%); and improving energy efficiency (36.7% vs. 34.9%).