Parks and recreation and the professionals who make it happen are essential. Here are five statements with supporting research that showcase the fundamental role of parks and recreation:

Parks and Recreation promotes health and wellness

People who live near parks are both physically and mentally healthier than those who do not.

  • More than 200 million people across the United States live within a 10-minute walk of at least one park or trail.1
  • Seventy-one percent of U.S. residents live within a walkable distance of a local park or other recreation opportunity (including playgrounds, open space, recreation centers).2
  • Access to indoor and/or outdoor recreation facilities and frequency of park visitation correlate with greater physical activity3,4; people who use parks and open spaces are three times more likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity than non-users.5
  • Greenspace exposure corresponds with improved physical health, including decreases in stress, blood pressure, heart rate, and risk of chronic disease (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease).6,7
  • Children with access to parks and facilities have shown decreased prevalence of obesity compared to children without access.8
  • Time spent in nature positively impacts mental health by increasing cognitive performance and well-being and alleviating illnesses such as depression, attention deficit disorders, and Alzheimers.9
  • Children lacking parks are more likely to be physically inactive, have excessive screen-time (greater than or equal to 4 hours daily), obtain inadequate sleep, and be obese, overweight, or diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).10
  • Inadequate/Insufficient physical activity leads to greater aggregate health care expenditures. Annual healthcare costs are significantly lower for adults who maintain moderate or high physical activity levels and adults who increase physical activity levels in early adulthood (in comparison to adults who were consistently inactive from adolescence into middle age).11,12

Parks and recreation encourages physical activities by providing space for popular sports, hiking trails, swimming pools and many other activities designed to promote active lifestyles.

  • The community recreation, fitness and parks sector is a leader in offering access to active recreation such as playgrounds, hiking and biking trails, senior centers, sports fields and swimming pools.13
  • Park and recreation professionals manage a wide variety of facilities and features at their agencies:14
    • Ninety-five percent of park and recreation agencies provide playground facilities in their communities; the typical agency has 13 playgrounds as a part of its infrastructure.
    • At least 50 percent of agencies have basketball courts, tennis courts, diamond fields for baseball and/or softball, multipurpose rectangular fields, dog parks and outdoor swimming pools.
    • Eighty-seven percent of park and recreation agencies offer team sports opportunities.
    • Seventy-six percent of park and recreation agencies offer individual sports opportunities.

Parks and recreation is a leading provider of healthy meals, nutrition services and education.

  • U.S. residents visit local park and recreation facilities an average 22 times a year, or nearly twice a month.2
  • Forty-seven percent of agencies provide nutrition education opportunities to their communities.15
  • Thirty-five percent of agencies offer federally reimbursable nutrition programs for youth and 28 percent of agencies offer federally reimbursable nutrition program for older adults.15
  • Thirty-seven percent of agencies offer non-federally funded nutrition programs.15

Access to parks and other public open space promotes greater mental well-being

  • Access to parks and green space exposure correlates to reductions in stress and symptoms of depression as well as improved attention and mood.16 
  • Mental health is significantly related to residential distance from parks. People living more than 1 kilometer away from a green space have nearly 50 percent higher odds of experiencing stress than those living fewer than 300 meters from a green space.17
  • Physician-diagnosed depression was 33 percent higher in the residential areas with the fewest green spaces compared to the neighborhoods with the most.18
  • Parks promote positive mental health by providing access to nature focus and encouraging recreational and sporting activity.19
  • Park quantity, quality and accessibility are predictors of overall well-being.20

 

Parks and recreation’s programming and education activities are critical to childhood development

Parks and recreation is a leading provider of childcare and out-of-school time programming.

  • More than four in five park and recreation agencies offer out-of-school time (OST) programs that serve millions of children throughout the United States.21
  • Park and recreation agencies deliver out-of-school time programs to children of all ages:22
    • Early childhood programs (at 42 percent of agencies offering OST programs)
    • Elementary school-aged children (at 97 percent of agencies offering OST programs)
    • Middle school-aged children (at 72 percent of agencies offering OST programs)
    • High school and early workforce-aged children (at 25 percent of agencies offering OST programs)
  • Eighty-three percent of park and recreation agencies offer summer camp programs for their communities’ children, and a majority of agencies deliver programs for teens (66 percent) and afterschool care (55 percent) as part of their OST portfolio.22

Parks and recreation is a leader in youth sports, providing opportunities for children of all skills and abilities to play and introducing kids to a wide variety of sports activities.

  • Ninety-two percent of agencies include team sports leagues as a part of their youth sports offerings.23
  • Fifty-eight percent of agencies have individual leagues for youth to engage in such sports as tennis, track and field, and wrestling.24
  • Eighty-three percent of all park and recreation agencies’ OST programs include organization fitness opportunities and sport recreation leagues.22
  • A third of park and recreation agencies offer adaptive/inclusive sports activities.24
  • A third of agencies have travel leagues as part of their youth sports portfolios.24
  • Seventy-one percent of park and recreation agencies offer aquatics programs.24
  • Availability of nearby parks correlates with higher participation in active sports.24
  • Ninety-eight percent of U.S. adults agree that it is important to provide youth with equitable access to sports opportunities.51

Parks and recreation teaches kids about environmental responsibility, provides better cognitive and emotional stimulation, and promotes creativity and imagination.

  • Nearly three in five park and recreation agencies provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-specific programs to community members.23
  • Top STEM program offerings include:24 
    • Environmental/Outdoor activities
    • Technology-based STEM (e.g., coding, robotics, 3D modeling)
    • Project-based learning
    • Making and tinkering
    • Citizen science
  • Youth who spend more time in nature tend to place a higher value on nature and have greater pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors (PEAB).25,26
  • Ninety-four percent of U.S. adults agree that it is important for children and young adults to learn about the environment and ways they can help be a good environmental steward.52

Children who spend a significant amount of time in nature also experience better emotional stability and improved mental health.

  • Four in five urban park and recreation agencies partner with local schools to coordinate efforts that connect youth to nature, including coordinated afterschool programs, nature-based field trips, and formal and informal shared usage agreements that transform schoolyards into publicly accessible spaces where children can play outside of school hours.27
  • Self-reported time in nature correlates overall positive youth development and each of the individual “Cs” of positive youth development: competence, connection, confidence, character and caring.28
  • The positive effects of nature exposure for children include improved cognitive functioning (including increased concentration, greater attention capacities and higher academic performance), better motor coordination, reduced stress levels, increased social interaction with adults and other children, and improved social skills.29
  • Nature play is an important component of the development of resilience in early childhood.30,31
  • Participating in outdoor recreation bolsters adolescent resilience to stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and improves overall adolescent mental health.53

 

Parks and recreation drives economic opportunity.

Local park and recreation agencies’ expenditures support economic activity and job creation.

  • Local parks and recreation agencies in the United States generated $218 billion in economic activity and supported more than 1.3 million jobs in 2019.32
    • Preliminary data suggest that parks and recreation’s economic impact held resilient during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as local parks’ operations and capital spending $225 billion in economic activity and supporting 1.25 million jobs in 2020.
  • The outdoor recreation economy, which includes local parks and recreation, accounted for $373.3 billion of 2020 U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 1.8 percent of the U.S. economy.33
  • The more than 10,000 local park and recreation agencies across the United States employ more than 165,000 full-time and hundreds of thousands part-time and seasonal park and recreation professionals.34

Employers and employees are more likely to locate near high-quality park and recreation amenities.

  • Eighty-two percent of corporate executives indicate that quality-of-life is an important factor when they consider making new facility, expansion or relocation plans.35
  • Investments in improving a community’s quality of life can create a virtuous cycle: high-quality places attract workers, which attract employers, which in turn attract more investments and jobs.36
  • Research and development (R&D) facilities, technology companies and corporate headquarters are more likely to prioritize quality-of-life and cultural amenities when making site-location decisions.37

Parks and recreation boost home values and property tax bases.

  • Four in five U.S. adults say that access to a nearby park, playground, open space or recreation center is an important factor in deciding where they want to live.2
  • A review of 33 studies suggests a home value premium of 8 percent to 10 percent for properties adjacent to a passive park.37

Parks and recreation is a leading source of first jobs for youth and young adults.

  • Three in 10 park and recreation agencies — including 56 percent of agencies located in urban locales — offer a workforce development and/or career exploration program targeted to youth and young adults entering the labor force for the first time.38
  • Ninety-six percent of U.S. adults agree there are important benefits that teenagers and young adults gain from their first jobs and volunteer opportunities.54

 

Parks and recreation is everywhere, uniting people and strengthening communities.

There are more than 10,000 park and recreation agencies, providing parks, trails, and other public outdoor and indoor spaces in nearly every city, town, and county across the United States.

  • The typical park and recreation agency has:14
    • One park for every 2,232 residents
    • One playground for every 3,750 residents
    • One recreation center for every 31,239 residents
    • One community center for every 29,036 residents
    • One senior center for every 59,603 residents

Park and recreation counters social isolation by connecting people with nature and each other.

  • Park and recreation programming touches on the NRPA Three Pillars of Health and Wellness, Equity, and Conservation:14
    • Festivals, parades and other themed special events (90 percent)
    • Social recreation events (88 percent)
    • Performing arts (64 percent)
    • Nature walks, community gardening, historic site visits, and other natural and cultural history activities (62 percent)
    • Trips and tours (61 percent)
  • Eighty-eight percent of U.S. adults agree that parks and recreation provide good opportunities to interact with nature and the outdoors.39 
  • Ninety-one percent of U.S. adults seek park-centered entertainment and social events that allow them to mix and mingle with others.40
  • Walking, park prescriptions, community gardening and farmers’ market vouchers may promote nature contact, strengthen social structures, and improve longer term mental and physical health by activating intrapersonal, interpersonal and environmental processes.41
  • High-quality parks and built environment features help to foster positive social interactions and increase social capital within historically marginalized communities.55

The U.S. public strongly supports parks and recreation’s mission and funding.

  • In the United States, 260 million people visited a local park or recreation facility at least once during the past year.2
  • Eighty-seven percent of U.S. adults say that parks and recreation is an important local government service. People of all ages, income levels and all racial, ethnic and political backgrounds agree that parks and recreation is essential.42
  • Eighty-one percent of U.S. adults want parks and recreation to ensure inclusivity through policies and practices. Inclusive practices and policies are those that take into account people of all mental and physical abilities, as well as ethnic, religious, racial , cultural or socio-economic backgrounds or orientations.56

U.S. adults want their political leaders to fully fund parks and recreation.

  • Seventy-two percent of U.S. adults — crossing ages, income levels and political affiliation — are more likely to vote for politicians (e.g., mayor, county executive or council member) who make park and recreation funding a priority.2
  • Nearly nine in 10 people agree that it is important for local, state and federal governments to fund local park and recreation agencies sufficiently in order to ensure every member of the community has equitable access to amenities, infrastructure and programming.2
  • Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults say that they support their local government dedicating revenues, taxes and levies that specifically target park and recreation operations or expansion projects.43

 

Parks and recreation is essential and adaptable infrastructure that makes our communities resilient in the face of natural disasters and climate change.

Local parks and recreation agencies collectively manage more than 11 million acres of open space across the United States.

  • Park and recreation agencies vary greatly by size, managing on average:44
    • 83 parks and other public lands
    • 3,125 acres of park and other public land

Parks and recreation agencies are on the forefront of their communities’ emergency response.

  • Three in five park and recreation agencies were providing essential, emergency services in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in October 2020, including:45
    • Supporting food to vulnerable youth, older adults and families
    • Opening agency facilities to serve as virtual learning centers
    • Providing facilities to serve as vaccination and testing centers
    • Transforming recreation centers to serve as emergency shelters

Climate-ready parks provide proven, cost effective and sustainable environmental solutions.

  • Parks lower ground temperatures with tree canopy, clean water, reduce flooding and contribute to healthier air.46
  • Trees and vegetation in parks help reduce air pollution directly by removing pollutants and reducing air temperature.47
  • Urban parks can improve the environment, enhance storm water management, reduce traffic noise and increase biodiversity.48

People with access to parks and green spaces live longer, healthier lives.

  • Parks provide opportunities for physical activity and connecting with the outdoors. The resulting impacts are better mental health, improved physical health and increased physical activity.47
  • Green space exposure in urban environments corresponds with lower mortality.49,50
  • Outdoor green environments enable physical distancing that reduces the risk of airborne viral infections (e.g., COVID-19) and increases resilience to global climate change.7

The U.S. public wants parks and recreation to protect natural resources and mitigate the impact of climate change.

  • Ninety-three percent of U.S. adults agree that it is critical that their local government develops local parks, trails and green spaces near bodies of water for the purpose of protecting natural resources in their community.40
  • Six in seven U.S. adults support their local park and recreation agency’s environmental initiatives, including wildlife conservation, educating the public on environmental issues, natural resource management, mitigating the impacts from climate change, nurturing pollinator habitats and managing land for flood mitigation.2

 

Photo caption: In Berea, Kentucky, meals prepared by Berea College and Berea Community School food service kitchens are distributed to children using a school bus with help from park and recreation staff. Photo courtesy of Berea College.

News Stories

9.29.22Top Story

Philadelphia bans weapons at local parks, pools

9.29.22Around the Country

EV chargers coming to more N.J. state parks

9.29.22Around the Country

Pa. park manager likes helping people enjoy outdoors