Parks and recreation and the professionals who make it happen are essential. Explore the following research-based statements that showcase the fundamental role of parks and recreation.

  • Open or CloseParks 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-four 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
    • Parks provide opportunities for physical activity and connecting with the outdoors. The resulting impacts are:3

    1. Better mental health

    2. Improved physical health

    3. Increased physical activity


    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.

    • Park and recreation professionals manage a wide variety of facilities and features at their agencies:

    1. Ninety-four percent of park and recreation agencies provide playground facilities in their communities and the typical agency has 12 playgrounds in its catalogue of offerings.

    2. At least 50 percent of agencies have basketball courts, tennis courts, diamond fields for baseball and/or softball, multi-purpose rectangular fields, dog parks and outdoor swimming pools.4

    • Eighty-seven percent of park and recreation agencies offer team sports opportunities.4
    • Seventy-two percent of park and recreation agencies offer individual sports opportunities.4


    Parks and recreation promotes access to better health through physical activity and nutritional education to all people, regardless of income, household formation, race/ethnicity and age.

    • U.S. residents visit local park and recreation facilities an average 28 times a year, or a little more than twice a month.5


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

    • People with increased access to greenspace experienced reductions in feeling depressed or worthless.6

  • Open or CloseParks 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, providing millions of meals to kids every week.

    • Nine in 10 park and recreation agencies offer out-of-school time (OST) programs that serve millions of children throughout the United States.7
    • 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 (67 percent) and afterschool care (57 percent) as part of their out-of-school time (OST) portfolio.4

    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.8
    • Fifty-eight percent of agencies have individual leagues for youth to engage in such sports as tennis, track and field, and wrestling.8
    • Half of all agencies provide non-league sports opportunities as part of their after-school activities.8
    • A third of park and recreation agencies offers adaptive/ inclusive sports activities.8
    • A third of agencies have travel leagues as part of their youth sports portfolios.8
    • Seventy-one percent of park and recreation agencies offer aquatics programs.4

    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 STEM-specific programs to community members.4
    • Top STEM program offerings include:9

    1. Environmental/outdoor activities

    2. Technology-based STEM (e.g., coding, robotics, 3D modeling)

    3. Project-based learning

    4. Making and tinkering

    5. Citizen science

    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.10
    • Youth who engage with nature benefit from:11

    1. Healthier babies

    2. Healthier eyes and vitamin D levels

    3. Increased physical activity

    4. Social-emotional well-being

  • Open or CloseParks and recreation drives economic opportunity

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

    • Local park and recreation agencies in the United States generated $166 billion in economic activity and supported more than 1.1 million jobs in 2017.12
    • The outdoor recreation economy, which includes local parks and recreation, accounted for $459.8 billion of 2019 Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 2.1 percent of the U.S. economy.13
    • The more than 10,000 local park and recreation agencies across the United States employ more than 160,000 full-time14 and hundreds of thousands part-time and seasonal park and recreation professionals.

    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.15
    • 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.16
    • 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.16

    Parks and recreation boost home values and property tax bases.

    • Nearly 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.5
    • A review of 33 studies suggests a home value premium of 8 percent to 10 percent for properties adjacent to a passive park.17

    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.18

  • Open or CloseParks 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:4

    1. One park for every 2,277 residents

    2. One playground for every 3,607 residents

    3. One recreation center for every 30,709 residents

    4. One community center for every 29,000 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:4

    1. Festivals, parades and other commemorative events (89 percent)

    2. Social recreation events (88 percent)

    3. Performing arts (65 percent)

    4. Nature walks, community gardening, historic site visits, and other natural and cultural history activities (62 percent)

    5. 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.19
    • Ninety-one percent of U.S. adults seek park-centered entertainment and social events that allow them to mix and mingle with others.20

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

    • Eighty-two percent of U.S. adults say that parks and recreation is essential to their lives. People of all ages, income levels and all racial, ethnic and political backgrounds agree that parks and recreation is essential.4
    • 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.4
    • 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.21

  • Open or CloseParks and recreation is essential and adaptable infrastructure that makes our communities resilient in the face of natural disasters and climate change

    Local park 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:22

    1. 74 parks and other public lands

    2. 3,200 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:23

    1. Supporting food to vulnerable youth, older adults and families

    2. Opening agency facilities to serve as virtual learn centers

    3. Providing facilities to serve as vaccination and testing centers

    4. Transforming recreation centers to serve as emergency shelters

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

    • Parks:3

    1. Lower ground temperatures (tree canopy)

    2. Clean water

    3. Reduce flooding

    4. Result in healthier air

    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:3

    1. Better mental health

    2. Improved physical health

    3. Increased physical activity

    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.19
    • 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.24

  • Open or CloseResources

    1.  The Trust for Public Land

    2.  NRPA, 2020 NRPA Engagement with Parks Survey

    3.  NRPA, Greener Parks for Health Communications Toolkit

    4.  NRPA, 2021 NRPA Agency Performance Review

    5.  NRPA, 2020 NRPA Engagement with Parks Report

    6.  Eugenia C. South,  Bernadette C. Hohl and Michelle C. Kondo, PhD (2018) “Effect of Greening Vacant Land on Mental Health of Community-Dwelling Adults,” JAMA Open Network 1:3

    7.  NRPA, 2018 NRPA Out-of-School Time Report

    8.  NRPA, Youth Sports at Park and Recreation Agencies report

    9.  NRPA, Connecting Youth to Nature Survey

    10.  Children and Nature Network, “Nature Can Improve Health and Well Being

    11.  NRPA, The Economic Impact of Parks

    12.  Bureau of Economic Analysis, Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, U.S. and States, 2019

    13.  Census Bureau, 2019 ASPEP Datasets and Tables

    14.  Area Development,34th Annual Corporate Survey & the 16th Annual Consultants Survey

    15.  NRPA, Promoting Parks and Recreation’s Role in Economic Development

    16.  John L. Crompton and Sarah Nicholls. (2020). “Impact on property values of distance to parks and open spaces: An update of U.S. studies in the new millennium.” Journal of Leisure Research, 51:2, 127-146.

    17.  NRPA, Workforce Development and Career Exploration at Parks and Recreation

    18.  NRPA, 2019 Engagement with Parks Report

    19.  September 2019 NRPA Park Pulse

    20.  October 2020 NRPA Park Pulse

    21.  2021 Park Metrics data

    22.  NRPA, COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Response and Recovery

    23. April 2021 NRPA Park Pulse

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