Trends in Parks & Recreation

A Look at Trends in Parks & Recreation

In this section, we take a look at the latest trends among respondents from parks agencies. The largest cohort covered in the survey, these respondents made up 47.1% of the survey population.

Park respondents were most likely to be located in the Midwest, West or South Atlantic regions. Some 28.7% of park respondents were from the Midwest, 24.6% were from the West, and 22.3% were from the South Atlantic. Smaller numbers of park respondents were located in the Northeast (12.2%) and South Central (11.9%) regions, and 0.2% said they were located outside of the United States.

Park respondents in 2020 were more likely than non-parks respondents to be from suburban and urban communities, and less likely to be located in rural areas. Some 44.1% of park respondents were located in the suburbs, compared with 38.6% of non-park respondents, and while 25.1% of park respondents were found in urban communities, 22% of non-park respondents were from urban areas. On the other hand, 39.4% of non-park respondents were found in rural communities, compared with 30.8% of park respondents.

Park respondents were more likely to reach larger populations of people than most other respondents. On average, park respondents said they reach a population of 142,000 people, up 19.7% from the average in 2019, of 118,600. Park respondents were much more likely than non-parks to report reaching an audience of 100,000 or more, while they were much less likely to reach an audience of 20,000 or fewer. Some 29.8% of park respondents said they reach at least 100,000 people (up from 24% in 2019). This compares with just 18.3% of non-park respondents. On the other hand, while 29.3% of park respondents said they reach a population of 20,000 or fewer (down from 30% in 2019), 56.8% of non-park respondents reach 20,000 or fewer people.

On average, park respondents said they manage 12 facilities, up slightly from 10.7 in 2019. More than three in 10 (30.5%) park respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities. (See Figure 41.) This compares with just 9.9% of non-park respondents. Conversely, park respondents were much less likely to manage just a single facility. While 17.2% of park respondents said they manage just one facility, 44.4% of non-park respondents said they have just one facility to manage.

Park respondents were more likely than non-park respondents to report that they reach either an all-ages audience or children ages 4 to 12. While 54.4% of park respondents said they primarily reach all ages, just 35.2% of non-park respondents reach an all-ages audience. And while 26.4% of park respondents reach children ages 4 to 12, just 11.5% of non-park respondents do so. Other audiences served by parks include: adults 19 and up (15% of park respondents said they primarily reach adults); teens (2.4%); seniors 65 and older (2.4%); and infants and toddlers (0.3%).

A majority of park respondents (94.9%) said that they form partnerships with outside organizations, up very slightly, from 94.5% in 2019. This compares with just 83.6% of non-park respondents who said they form such partnerships. The most common partners for parks are: local schools (73.7%); local government (73.7%); nonprofit organizations (61.7%); state government (45.8%); and corporate or local businesses (41.4%). (See Figure 42.)

Revenues & Expenditures

The percentage of park respondents reporting an increase in revenue was up for 2019, with more than half (52.1%) reporting that their revenues in 2019 were higher than in 2018. At the same time, 8.3% reported a drop in revenues, and 39.7% said their revenues had remained unchanged. (See Figure 43.)

When the Industry Report Survey was taken in January, nearly half (49.7%) of park respondents were expecting to see their revenues increase, and just 4% were expecting revenues to fall in 2020. However, when the COVID-19 Update Survey was taken in early May, those numbers were dramatically different, with just 10.3% expecting revenues to either hold steady or increase in 2020. The vast majority—89.7%—of park respondents in May said their 2020 revenues would be lower than in 2019. Well over a third (35.8%) of park respondents were expecting their revenues to fall by 50% or more. Another 32.3% were expecting declines of 30 to 40%, and 18.4% were expecting a drop of 10 to 20%.

Park respondents have reported gradually increasing operating expenditures. From 2018 to 2019, park respondents' average operating expenditures increased by 13.8%, from $2,030,000 to $2,310,000. They expected to see a further increase of 1.3% in 2020, to an average of $2,340,000, and an increase of 4.7% in 2021, with average operating expenses reaching $2,450,000. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will become clearer when the 2021 Industry Report Survey is taken.

On average, park respondents report that they recover 43.8% of their operating costs via revenues, up slightly from 42.3% in 2019. This number has fluctuated slightly over time, reaching a high of 45.1% in 2016. More than one-third (35.5%) of park respondents said that revenues cover 30% or less of their operating costs. Another 19% said they recover 31 to 50% of their costs, some 15.2% earn back 51 to 70% of their operating costs, and 19.3% said they earn back at least 71% of their operating costs via revenues.

Respondents from parks were slightly less likely than non-park respondents to report that they had taken action to reduce their operating expenses. Some 81.8% of non-park respondents said they had done so, compared with 80.6% of park respondents. The most common actions park respondents had taken to reduce their expenses include: improving energy efficiency (51.6%, up from 46.6%); increasing fees (49.1%); putting construction or renovation plans on hold (28.5%); reducing staff (25.7%); and reducing hours of operation (18.1%).

Park Facilities

Park respondents were much more likely than non-park respondents to report that the number of people using their facilities had increased from 2018 to 2019. Some 58.7% of park respondents said usage increased in 2019, compared with 46.6% of non-park respondents. This is up slightly from 2018, when 57.7% of park respondents saw usage increase. Another 5.3% of park respondents said the use of their facilities had decreased in 2019, while 36% said there was no change in the number of people using their facilities in 2019. (See Figure 44.)

The number of park respondents who were expecting to see more users over 2020 and 2021 held fairly steady, with 57.3% expecting an increase in 2020 and 59.3% expecting an increase in 2021. Very few park respondents anticipate declining usage at their facilities—just 1.5% in 2020 and 1.1% in 2021.

After a slight decrease in 2019, the number of park respondents who reported plans for construction increased again in 2020. While 76.1% of park respondents in 2019 said they were planning construction, in 2020, 80.8% of park respondents said they had such plans. Two-thirds (66%) of park respondents were planning renovations to their existing facilities, while 39.2% were planning additions and 38.7% were planning to build new facilities. (See Figure 45.)

After reporting a decrease in construction budgets from 2017 to 2018, respondents in 2019 saw a significant increase. The year 2020 saw further increases to construction budgets for parks. After a 9.4% increase from 2017 to 2019, respondents in 2020 reported a further 8.6% increase, from an average of $5,130,000 in 2019 to $5,570,000 in 2020. This is 1.1% lower than the average construction cost for all respondents ($5,630,000).

Once again, there was little change to the features most commonly found among park respondents' facilities in 2020. The top 10 features most commonly found among their facilities remained the same, with only slight changes from 2019 to 2020. The 10 most common features in park respondents' facilities include: park shelters such as gazebos and picnic shelters; playgrounds; park restroom structures; walking and hiking trails; open spaces such as gardens and natural areas; outdoor sports courts for sports like basketball and tennis; bleachers and seating; natural turf sports fields; concession areas; and classrooms and meeting rooms.

The number of park respondents who said they had plans to add more features at their facilities over the next three years increased from 51.4% in 2019 to 53.7% in 2020. This compares with just 34.1% of non-park respondents who had plans to add features at their facilities.

The most commonly planned additions for park respondents were:

  1. Splash play areas (planned by 32.1% of park respondents who will be adding features)
  2. Dog parks (26.4%)
  3. Playgrounds (24.2%)
  4. Park shelters (21.5%)
  5. Park restroom structures (20.9%)
  6. Walking and hiking trails (20%)
  7. Outdoor fitness areas and fitness trails (18.5%)
  8. Disc golf courses (14.8%)
  9. Bike trails (14.5%)
  10. Synthetic turf sports fields (13.9%)

Features that were planned by more respondents in 2020 than in 2019 include: splash play areas (up from 25.6%); dog parks (up from 22.4%); playgrounds (up from 21.6%); park shelters (up from 18.1%); park restroom structures (up from 18.7%); walking and hiking trails (up from 18.4%); and disc golf courses (up from 12.6%).

Programming

Park respondents were slightly more likely than non-park respondents to report that they provide programming of any kind at their facilities. While 95.3% of non-park respondents offer programming, 98.7% of park respondents do so, up from 97.6% in 2019.

The most common programs found in park respondents' lineups include: holiday events and other special events (81.6% of park respondents include them); youth sports teams (70.2%); day camps and summer camps (65%); group exercise programs (64.6%); educational programs (62.2%); adult sports teams (60.2%); arts and crafts programs (59.2%); programs for active older adults (58.6%); fitness programs (57.2%); and festivals and concerts (55.6%).

Programs that saw an increase for park respondents include: holidays and other special events (up from 79.3%); group exercise programs (up from 64.2%); educational programs (up from 61.6%); and fitness programs (up from 56.2%).

Park respondents were much more likely than non-park respondents to report that they had plans to add more programming options at their facilities over the next three years. Some 40.8% of park respondents said they had such plans (up from 37.2% in 2019), compared with 30.1% of non-park respondents.

The most commonly planned program additions in 2020 for parks include:

  1. Environmental education programs (up from No. 7)
  2. Teen programming (up from No. 5)
  3. Fitness programs (down from No. 2)
  4. Group exercise programs (no change from 2019)
  5. Day camps and summer camps (up from No. 8)
  6. Mind-body balance programs such as yoga (no change)
  7. Programs for active older adults (down from No. 1)
  8. Arts and crafts programs (did not appear in 2019)
  9. Special needs programs (no change)
  10. Performing arts programs (did not appear in 2019)

Arts and crafts programs and performing arts programs replaced educational programs and holidays and other events. RM



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