Community Impact

The power of multi-generational destination parks

By Matt Miller

P
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.

Economic boost

An additional benefit of a destination park is the possibility for stimulating the local economy. The Lewisburg park, for example, is a public-private partnership centered on a mutual goal to better a community.

Because of their wide appeal, destination parks can put a town on the map and increase traffic to other nearby attractions. Like any new attraction, a destination park will initially draw curious patrons simply because it is new. Once established, the destination park not only becomes its town's staple of recreation, but also shares its success with the entire community by increasing traffic to existing businesses and stimulating new business growth.

As the local economy becomes increasingly active, property values also may increase. According to a study conducted by The Trust for Public Land in Salem, Ore., urban land located directly next to a greenbelt was worth $1,200 more per acre than urban land only 1,000 feet away. Over time, the enhanced recreational area and more active local economy created by the park will attract new families and couples looking to relocate and businesses hoping to expand.

Community unity

According to park planners who assisted in the Lewisburg project, the park has sparked strong community spirit that extends far beyond the borders of the park. One of the park's greatest attributes is that it fosters involvement of the entire community.

Parks give people a place to meet others who share similar interests, are involved at the same schools, cheer for the same sports teams and frequent the same grocery stores or restaurants. Destination parks take this function a step further by attracting more people of more different ages than a typical park and then help them connect through activities that cater to their individual ages and interests. The result is a tight-knit community that prides itself on the common relationships, businesses and public facilities it shares.

The support and enthusiasm from the local community was one of the most important components to the construction of the Lewisburg park. Not only has the park given residents an innovative facility in which they can socialize, but a place where they can continue to build strong community ties while encouraging play and healthy living.

As we move toward a new generation of public parks, expect to see more large landscapes in line with the concept of the multigenerational destination park. These parks can completely revitalize the physical, relational and economic well-being of an entire community, making them a major trend in future park developments.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Miller is president of Playworld Systems Inc., a leading manufacturer of commercial playground equipment. During his 12 years in the industry, Miller has traveled the country to review and study playgrounds, and explore how children learn and develop through play. He has been a trainer at several regional and national conferences on topics such as risk management, playground safety and playground design. For more information, see www.playworldsystems.com.




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