Who Participates in Summer Park and Rec Programs?


By Melissa May|Posted on November 30, 2016

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Tags: Trends

The NRPA Research Team released the results of the Americans’ Engagement with Parks survey in October at this year’s NRPA Annual Conference in St. Louis. This new annual study surveyed 1,000 Americans ages 18+ and takes a closer look at the many ways Americans use their parks as well as issues and concerns surrounding the field of parks and recreation.

The survey found that nearly half (47 percent) of the respondents or a member(s) of their household had participated in a park and recreation offering or program between the time of late-May to late-August. But that does not tell the full story.

Seven in 10 Millennials and half of Gen Xers said that they or a member of their household participated in a park and recreation offering or program over the summer. Non-white Americans participated at a higher rate than whites (55 percent versus 45 percent). And, parents or their household members were more than twice as likely to have participated in a park or recreation program over non-parents (70 percent versus 34 percent).

These results are not surprising as summer is the busiest time of the year for programs at the majority of parks and recreation facilities. The 2016 NRPA Field Report shows four out of five park and recreation agencies offer summer camp and 84 percent of agencies offer team sport opportunities. Additionally, 60 percent of all park and recreation agencies throughout the country provide aquatic services. While many offerings are focused toward children, many agencies, three-quarters in fact, provide senior-focused programming. 

Summer programs at local park and recreation facilities not only improve the body, but also the mind.  Learning-focused out-of-school time (OST) programs include environmental education, nutrition education and STEM classes, to name a few.  These summer offerings connect children with the great outdoors, help stop summer brain drain, and close the education gap. Nearly three in five agencies also provide a nutritious snack and/or meal to camp attendees.  

Park and recreation agencies provide a vital service to the youth of many communities even as they confirm funding challenges, facility space shortages, and inadequate staffing issues. Even with kids now back in school, the number of people participating in park and recreation offerings or programs will stay large. The 2016 NRPA Field Report tells us that half of all park and recreation agencies offer after-school programs while a third offer before-school programs.  

As the Americans’ Engagement with Parks Survey shows us, nearly half of respondents or someone in their household participated in a park and recreation offering or program this summer. The survey also shows that three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans visited a park or recreation facility for any purpose between the time of late-May to late-August.  Millennials lead the way with park and/or recreation facility visitation over the summer months with 86 percent. Members of Gen X followed with just over four in five visiting, but Baby Boomers lagged behind in summer park and/or recreation center visits at 58 percent. Unsurprisingly, nearly nine in 10 parents themselves (or someone in their household) visited a park and/or recreation facility this summer compared to 63 percent of non-parents. 

The summer months have kept Americans busy and park and recreation agencies even busier. But the fact that the weather has cooled off does not mean the public will not be relying on your agency this fall and winter. Your agency provides many opportunities that will bring residents to your local parks and recreation facilities. Take a look at the results of the Americans’ Engagement with Parks survey to further tell your agency’s story. 

Melissa May is NRPA’s Research Manager.