The NRPA Parks Snapshot provides the latest data on how park and recreation leaders from across the country are confronting the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. I hope you find this information helpful as you make decisions at your agency during this uncertain time, while continuing to follow the guidance provided by your local and state governments and health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We will continue to provide weekly data from the NRPA Parks Snapshot survey, as state and local guidance and ordinances regarding COVID-19 are changing rapidly.
Among the key findings from the May 6-8 survey:
What’s Open/What’s Closed
Again this week, there was a small uptick in the percentage of park and recreation leaders indicating that all of their agency’s trails (95 percent), parks (local parks: 78 percent; regional parks: 73 percent) and community gardens (75 percent) are open.
Several amenities that had been closed recently at a majority of agencies are beginning to fully open across the nation, including:
- Golf courses (84 percent)
- Dog parks (54 percent)
- Beaches (47 percent)
- Tennis courts (44 percent)
Most agencies are keeping closed all of their:
- Basketball courts (73 percent)
- Permanent restrooms (67 percent)
- Campgrounds (66 percent)
- Outdoor sports fields (55 percent)
Path to Recovery
Many park and recreation leaders are developing plans for the reopening of their facilities and programs as conditions permit, with most expected to follow a phased opening strategy. The most commonly cited amenities and program offerings anticipated to be part of the first phase of reopening are:
- Restrooms that are currently closed (44 percent)
- Outdoor sports fields/courts that are currently closed (44 percent)
- Picnic areas, including grilling, shelters and pavilions (37 percent)
- Playgrounds (26 percent)
- Golf courses (26 percent)
- Parks that are currently closed (25 percent)
Recently, many agencies have been faced with new maintenance challenges directly or indirectly stemming from the pandemic (e.g, budgetary and staffing restrictions). Among the top maintenance challenges faced by park and recreation professionals are:
- Removal of barriers promoting physical distancing (e.g., removing fencing from playgrounds, basketball rim coverings) (56 percent)
- Increased trash left behind (56 percent)
- Deferred day-to-day maintenance of facilities due to budgetary constraints (32 percent)
- Discarded PPE (e.g., masks, gloves) on the ground (32 percent)
- Increased vandalism (32 percent)
Many park and recreation leaders are facing challenging budget situations as local cities, towns and counties are cutting general fund support while their agencies have had to cancel out-of-school time programming, events, sponsorships, and other fee-based amenities that make up a large part of their cost recovery strategies.
A majority of park and recreation leaders report their agencies have been asked to reduce agency operations spending:
- 56 percent of park and recreation agencies are facing cuts to the current fiscal year’s operations spending, with a median target range of a 10-19 percent reduction.
- 46 percent of park and recreation agencies are making reductions to their next fiscal year’s operations budgets, also with a median target range of a 10-19 percent reduction.
Cost recovery has become very challenging in the current environment, with the vast majority (97 percent) of park and recreation leaders predicting their agency’s earned revenues (e.g., registration fees, sponsorships) will miss their original budgeted levels for this fiscal year, and more than four in five agencies anticipating the same for the next fiscal year. The typical agency leader forecasts earned revenue will miss original budget targets by a median range of 30-39 percent this year and 20-29 percent in the next fiscal year.
Cost-cutting takes many forms. The most common expense cutting measures are the implementation of a hiring freeze (69 percent) and reducing discretionary purchases of supplies and outside services (65 percent). Additional measures include:
- Laying off/furloughing part-time and seasonal staff (60 percent) or full-time staff (14 percent)
- Deferring/canceling capital projects (54 percent)
- Shifting staff member core responsibilities (54 percent)
- Reducing energy use at facilities, such as reducing lighting in buildings and at outdoor facilities and reducing HVAC operations in buildings (50 percent)
- Ramping down/deferring ongoing maintenance (37 percent)
- Reducing the use of outside contractors, such as landscaping services (21 percent)
In addition, here are highlights of the survey results from specific segments:
- Large metropolitan areas
- Urban agencies
- Small metropolitan areas and rural locales
- Agencies located in areas under stay-at-home orders
- Agencies located in areas partially open
The full results of the survey include verbatim comments shared by park and recreation leaders across the nation on their agencies’ experiences in confronting COVID-19. This is an uncertain time with many unanswered questions, and we encourage you to continue the conversation with your colleagues around how your agency is confronting COVID-19 on NRPA Connect.
For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.
Kevin Roth is Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology at NRPA.