Diving Deeper Into NRPA’s 2021 Engagement With Parks Report

By Melissa May | Posted on October 28, 2021

Engagement Report blog series 410

In early 2016, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) released the results of a Penn State University commissioned study identifying how the public engages with their local park and recreation services. The original report titled Americans’ Broad-Based Support for Local Recreation and Park Services found that adults almost unanimously agree that their communities benefit from their local parks, even if they themselves are not regular park users. Even more remarkable was that the results from this survey virtually matched those from a similar NRPA/Penn State study from 25 years earlier.

That common sentiment of the public’s approval and support was found true in 1992, again in 2016, and it remains true today in the 2021 Engagement With Parks Report. Each year, NRPA conducts an annual survey of 1,000 U.S. adults focusing on the general public’s interaction with and opinions of parks and recreation. While the bulk of questions being asked annually remain the same, a variety of different topics are briefly explored each year. The biggest takeaway from these reports is not in the changes over time, but in the constancy year-to-year.      

Why Conduct this Survey Report Annually?

The overriding takeaway from the study is that members of the general public are untapped advocates to spread the local park and recreation story. This report stands as a representation of the need for parks and recreation to grow and meet the demands and desires of the community. These data are not coming from park and recreation agencies, they are not coming from NRPA, they are coming from the members of our communities across the United States that love and support the parks and programs they use throughout the year.

NRPA’s Survey Method

As I mentioned above, the 2021 Engagement With Parks Report is based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. The NRPA research team develops the roughly 25-30 question survey. Around 20-22 questions remain evergreen while five to eight questions highlight current events such as natural disasters, voting, or park and recreation funding. Wakefield Research, a market research consultancy, distributes the survey on behalf of NRPA using an email invitation and an online survey for a period of two weeks. Wakefield Research also sets quotas to ensure a reliable and accurate representation of the U.S. adult population.

The collection of demographic data not only allows the research team to verify representation for all people, but also gives us the ability to tell a more compelling story. Parks and recreation is for everyone. We are able to view data from those 1,000 U.S. adults by gender, age, generation, region, race and ethnicity, their proximity to a park, physical activity level, income, parentage, marital status, employment, political views and education. The parks and rec story comes alive when you can say that baby boomers living near at least one park are more likely to be active than those with no park nearby. The possibilities are practically endless.  

Stay tuned to the Open Space blog over the next few months, as we will be diving deeper into the results from this year’s 2021 Engagement With Parks Report. We will also be highlighting additional insights, including changes seen over the years, park usage in 2020 due to the pandemic, why it is good to see so many of the numbers remaining constant and much more. In the meantime, I encourage you to take a look at the recently released 2021 Engagement With Parks Report and interact with the various demographic breakdowns accompanying this annual study.

Melissa May (she/her) is NRPA’s senior research manager.