Parks are key to ensuring the health of our environment because they play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, providing clean water and clean air, and enabling conservation of natural resources.

The mission of public parks and recreation at all levels should support the conservation and stewardship of the land, water, and natural resources.

Parks and public lands serve an essential role in preserving natural resources and wildlife habitats, protecting clean water and clean air, and providing open space for current and future generations. Parks provide an essential connection for Americans of all ages and abilities to the life‐enhancing benefits of nature and the outdoors.

As the largest source of open space land in the country, parks and public lands are critical to the quality of life for all Americans. Clean, green, and accessible parks and open spaces improve the quality of life for every person in every community.

Parks are key to ensuring the health of our environment because they play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, providing clean water and clean air, and enabling the conservation of natural resources. Park and recreation professionals should become leaders in protecting open space for the common good, and actively lead in sustainably managing and developing land and resources for public use and environmental conservation for the benefit of the public and the resources. Also, park and recreation professionals should provide education and interpretation of the value of conservation to the public, connect children and youth to nature and the outdoors, and coordinate environmental stewardship with other public and nonprofit entities.

The benefits of conservation and environmental stewardship are many, including:

  • Providing carbon‐reducing sustainable landscapes that cleanse air and water, replenish aquifers, reduce stormwater runoff, and protect wildlife habitat;
  • Offering the public access to safe, affordable, and healthy ways to experience and appreciate nature; and
  • Contributing significantly to the economic well‐being of communities through energy and resource conservation and providing many economic benefits to communities derived from outdoor recreation.

The National Recreation and Park Association’s goal is to place public parks and recreation at the forefront of conservation and environmental stewardship nationally by facilitating and promoting conservation leadership in every community. NRPA believes that park and recreation agencies should be leaders in conservation within their communities through the planning, stewardship, and public engagement.

Supporting Points

The following points support the critical role of public parks and recreation in conservation.

  • The Outdoor Industry Association estimates the annual economic value of outdoor recreation to the nation at $730 billion.
  • The return on investment from protecting open space for public benefit from ecosystem services of water filtration, climate change protection, and other aspects of conserving public open space is estimated to be 100 to 1, according to a study by the Gund Institute for Ecological Economies at the University of Vermont.
  • The number of Denver residents in 1980 who said they would pay more to live near a greenbelt or park: 16 percent. The number in 1990: 48 percent.
  • The estimated gross increase in residential property value resulting from proximity to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is $500 million to $1 billion.
  • In Pima County, Arizona, wildlife viewing in one year amounted to an estimated $173.5 million in direct spending; $90.7 million in salaries and wages associated with 3,196 jobs; and about $9.9 million in state sales and fuel tax revenue, according to the Arizona Department of Fish and Game.
  • Public support for land conservation and open space protection ballot measures has remained above 70 percent passage over the past decade, even during times of economic downturns and recessions.


The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy. 2006. The Outdoor Industry Association. Retrieved February 16, 2012. 

Economic Benefits of Conservation. 2002. Robert Costanza, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. From Science Magazine. Retrieved March 1, 2012. 

How Cities Use Parks for Economic Development. 2003. American Planning Association. City Parks Forum report. Retrieved March 1, 2012. 

The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space: How Land Conservation Helps Communities Grow Smart and Protect the Bottom Line. 2009. Werner, Poole. Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, CA.

The Economic Benefits of Conservation. 2009. Pima County, AZ. 

Voters Give Overwhelming Approval of Land Conservation Measures. 2010. Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, CA. Press Release. 


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