Our nation's parks, playgrounds and recreation infrastructure play a vital role in the overall well-being of American communities, and their proven social and economic benefits are extensive.
Politico recently reported that ongoing conversations in the House of Representatives to limit the types of projects that will be eligible for community project funding for Fiscal Year 2024 — also known as "earmarks" — could include funds for local parks.
Thanks to community project funding in Fiscal Year 2023, projects led by park departments and their partners included an expansion of services to older adults, construction of a memorial greenway system in honor of veterans, a stormwater management and resiliency project, and so much more. Parks and recreation ultimately provide savings to taxpayers by lowering infrastructure, healthcare, safety and social service costs.
The shared impact of operations and capital spending by U.S. local park and recreation agencies in 2019 resulted in nearly $218 billion in economic activity and $107 billion in added gross domestic product (GDP) and supported nearly 1.3 million jobs that paid salaries, wages and benefits totaling $68.4 billion.
Parks serve as trusted gathering places that connect communities to essential programs, services and spaces. The very act of being in a park, playground or recreational space can have both immediate and long-term physical and mental health benefits by reducing stress, encouraging more physical activity and bringing communities together. However, we estimate that 100 million people — 30 percent of the U.S. population — lack access to the lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits of parks and recreation.
Despite the widespread benefits that parks and recreation offer, they are chronically underfunded with many systems having a significant capital improvement project backlog. As we saw over the past few years with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, parks are vital to communities. The first public service that was opened to community members were park systems. During COVID-19, parks provided frontline emergency services. And even though pandemic precautions have eased, we continue to see increased usage and participation in our parks, trails and public spaces.
Allowing Congress to exclude local parks from accessing federal funds would be a mistake.
Parks are a smart investment as they stretch federal funds by leveraging local and private funding sources and provide numerous returns due to their multiple benefits.
We urge Congress to keep extending a helping federal hand to our local parks — and not to institute unnecessary new rules that instead just tie their hands together.
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The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is the leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation. With more than 60,000 members, NRPA advances this mission by investing in and championing the work of park and recreation professionals and advocates — the catalysts for positive change in service of equity, climate-readiness, and overall health and well-being. For more information, visit nrpa.org. For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit parksandrecreation.org.