Research Reports

Americans Engagement with Parks Survey

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The vast offerings of the local park and recreation agency improve the lives of people throughout our nation. From the fact that Americans on average visit their local park and recreation facilities approximately 29 times a year to the majority of Americans identifying parks and recreation as an important service provided by their local government, the general public is an untapped advocate to spread the public park and recreation story. This annual study probes Americans’ usage of parks, the key reasons that drive their use and the greatest challenges preventing greater usage.

NRPA Out-of-School Time Survey Results


Out-of-school time (OST) programs are critical providers of child care — affording parents and caregivers the opportunity to earn a living. These programs provide education about nature and nutrition, tutoring, mentoring and enrichment opportunities that improve the mental, physical and emotional health of youth. More so, OST programs fill a critical need by providing healthy meals to children during out-of school times. There remains, however, many opportunities for greater success by serving more children and expanding program offerings. Based on survey results from 396 park and recreation professionals, this study explores the scope and missions of out-of-school time programs, along with their greatest challenges and successes. 

Using Data at Park & Recreation Agencies

Data at Park and Recreation Agencies

In recent years, park and recreation professionals have increased their use of data analysis to support decision making. The insights gleaned from data analysis help agencies make informed programming decisions for their facilities, help optimize capital expenditure budgets and support master planning. At the same time, many park and recreation agencies face the daunting challenge of identifying how to best take advantage of the great promise data can bring to their agencies. Based on the feedback of 58 directors from urban park and recreation agencies, this study looks at how park and recreation agencies are embracing data today and to identify the barriers that inhibit greater use of analysis.

NRPA’s 2016 Field Report

NRPA’s 2016 Field ReportThe typical park and recreation agency offers one park for every 2,277 residents served, with 9.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. But park and recreation agencies are as diverse as the communities that they serve, and what works well for one agency may not be best for your agency. Therefore, you need data to best identify the best practices to optimally serve your community.

That’s where the 2016 NRPA Field Report comes in. This report is the most comprehensive resource of data and insights for park and recreation agencies in the United States, and has 21 figures highlighting critical park and recreation metrics.

Americans’ Broad-Based Support for Local Recreation and Park Services

Perceptions CoverAmericans cherish their local public park and recreation services, seeing them as valuable features of their communities, towns and cities. In fact, Americans almost unanimously agree that their communities benefit from their local public parks, even if they themselves are not regular park users. This passion for local public parks has gone unabated during the past 25 years even as our nation and the ways we interact and entertain each other have dramatically evolved. Read the study and dig deeper with interactive graphics.

The Economic Impact of Local Parks

The Economic Impact of Local ParksAmerica’s local and regional public park agencies generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost 1 million jobs from their operations and capital spending alone in 2013. When the spending at local and regional parks is combined with that of national and state parks, public parks are responsible for more than $200 billion in annual economic activity.

The study, the first nationwide study of its kind, focuses exclusively on the direct, indirect and induced effects local and regional park agencies’ spending have on economic activity. Read a more thorough, technical discussion of the study here.

Relevant Research for Practice - 2015

Relevant Research for Practice - 2015This report translates key academic research findings for everyday park and recreation professionals. Included are summaries of 45 peer-reviewed research articles published between 2012 and 2015, organized by the subject matter focused on NRPA’s Three Pillars of Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity. For each report, you will find a summary of each articles’ key findings, the full reference, contact information of the primary authors and (if available) links to download the full academic articles.

Read more about key academic research findings here.

Active Transportation and Parks and Recreation

Active Transportation and Parks and RecreationParks and recreation agencies have historically been closely aligned with the goals of active transportation principles, as well as playing an important role in the development and management of active transportation infrastructure. It is difficult to imagine a truly comprehensive active transportation network that is not touched by a park and recreation agency, and in many cases parks and recreation agencies are the primary providers of active transportation-related services. Through active transportation, parks and recreation agencies provide valuable benefits to communities by providing an engine for economic development, increasing health and wellbeing, supporting conservation and providing benefits to all citizens regardless of socioeconomic status. Download Active Transportation and Parks and Recreation.

Safe Routes to Parks: Improving Access to Parks through Walkability

Park Access ReportAccess to parks increases one's level of physical activity, therefore parks are an important destination that should be easily accessible to all citizens. This report explores the obstacles limiting walkability to parks and identify the essential elements of a safe route to a park. Additionally, this report assesses the barriers to walkability, determines the key stakeholders responsible for creating safe routes to parks, identifies strategies on building awareness on the importance of walkability, and recognizes current initiatives on improving safe routes to parks. Download Safe Routes to Parks: Improving Access to Parks through Walkability.

Quantifying the Contribution of Public Parks to Physical Activity and Health

SOPARC ReportBecause public parks contribute to health and well-being, primarily by serving as an important venue for physical activity, it is in the best interests of park administrators to have a method to measure this contribution. While parks offer health benefits beyond physical activity, physical activity can be objectively measured and is an excellent way to demonstrate the value of parks. Learn more in Quantifying the Contribution of Public Parks to Physical Activity and Health. Download Quantifying the Contribution of Public Parks to Physical Activity and Health.

Let’s Go to the Park Today: The Role of Parks in Obesity Prevention and Improving the Public’s Health

Childhood Obesity Cover The Journal Childhood Obesity recently published a Perspective on the role of parks in obesity prevention and improving the public’s health. The article was authored by experts from the CDC, National Park Service and NRPA.

The article briefly summarizes some of the obesity related benefits of parks across the local, state, and national park systems and highlights specific initiatives as examples of the commitment by park agencies to benefit the public’s health and play a role in obesity and chronic disease prevention. Download Let’s Go to the Park Today: The Role of Parks in Obesity Prevention and Improving the Public’s Health.

Reprinted with permission from Childhood Obesity, October 2012, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.

Parks Build Healthy Communities: Success Stories

Parks Build Healthy Communities Success Stories Our country is in a health crisis. Sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition have contributed to the more than one-third of adults and approximately 17 percent of children in the U.S. being obese. Parks and recreation can help inspire a healthier America.

This publication collects the best and most successful strategies leveraged since 2009 that have proved effective for building healthy communities through parks and recreation. These case studies offer valuable insights for others seeking to take a stand and become leaders in their community for fighting the battle of obesity. Download Parks Build Healthy Communities: Success Stories.
 Find more resources, including Issue Briefs and Dialogue Guides, on our Healthy Communities page.

Parks and Recreation in Underserved Areas: A Public Health Perspective

Parks Rec Underserved Areas In light of the urgency of the obesity epidemic and available research, it is essential for park and recreation agencies to review and reevaluate the aspects of parks that can potentially have a lasting impact on the future of public health.

This paper takes a closer look at how park use and physical activity levels are influenced by the following factors: distribution and access to public parks and recreation, park facilities and park conditions. Download Parks and Recreation in Underserved Areas.

Synopsis of Research Papers: The Key Benefits

Research Papers Summary CoverThe situation facing U.S. parks is stark: A societal resource more popular and beneficial than at any time in history is pitted against those who would cut funding to these very resources.

The Synopsis of 2010 Research Papers  summarizes the key categories in which parks and recreation contribute to building of healthy, vibrant communities. This white paper outlines in six main areas the latest research into the benefits provided by parks: physical health, mental health, social functioning, youth development, environment, and economic impact.

Read all available industry monographs in their entirety.

From Interest to Commitment: The Citizen Connection—A White Paper Summary of an Open Forum at the 2010 NRPA Congress

Citizen ConnectionIt is generally assumed that citizen participation is a desired and necessary part of any community based initiative. At the same time, the concept is so broad that until this time there has not been a clear-cut and widely agreed upon definition of it. Read about proven successful strategies that have encouraged citizen participation in park and recreation agency events, programs and services, as well as volunteering and advocacy.

This white paper report offers park and recreation agencies insights on how to successfully engage park users and the broader public in their organizations. Download From Interest to Commitment: The Citizen Connection.

Rejuvenating Neighborhoods and Communities through Parks—A Guide To Success

Rejuvenating NeighborhoodsThe practice of developing or redeveloping parks, and open spaces, has become a catalyst for revitalizing neighborhoods and communities, throughout the United States. This guide provides inspiration to move park projects forward while giving you strategies and techniques to ensure success.

Parks are such an essential component of livable, sustainable, communities that it is difficult to imagine a truly livable sustainable community without parks, trails, and other recreational resources and the positive changes such parks create for the entire neighborhood. Download Rejuvenating Neighborhoods and Communities through Parks—A Guide To Success.

Case Studies

Issue Briefs

For more information about research papers, contact NRPA Customer Service at 800.626.NRPA (6772)