Celebrating 30 Years of Park and Recreation Month

May 1, 2015, Department, by Roxanne Sutton

This circa-1985 image shows then-Vice President George H.W. Bush alongside Walter Payton and then-Chairman of the NRPA Board of Trustees Harry Haskell, Jr.Picture 1985. Ronald Reagan was President. The Cosby Show was the most popular show on television and “Careless Whisper” by Wham! was the No. 1 song. Most importantly, though, July 1985 marked the first celebration and endorsement of National Park and Recreation Month.

Prior to 1985, Park and Recreation Month was celebrated in June, but to better accommodate differing school schedules and climates, the celebration was moved to July. That year, NRPA worked with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and Walter Payton, Hall of Fame running back of the Chicago Bears, to endorse July as Park and Recreation Month. 

In that initial meeting in the Vice President’s office, Bush said, “I commend the National Recreation and Park Association, for they remind us how precious and wonderful life is.”

Payton added to that sentiment by sharing what we, unfortunately, know to still be true today, “Children, and really this applies to all of us, at times must be ‘sold’ on recreation. I know my own four-year-old son, Jarett, is much more likely to be interested in an activity or a certain toy once he sees other children have found it to be a good time.”

That year’s theme was centered around “Celebrate July” and NRPA’s tagline at the time, “Life. Be in it.” The Internet didn’t really exist yet, so toolkits were mailed out and NRPA members could then mail in their order forms for Park and Recreation Month merchandise. While the technology around Park and Recreation Month has certainly changed, our goals for “selling” everyone on parks and recreation have remained the same. 

This year, we’re giving a nod to our history with a fun, throwback 1980s theme. But the crucial part of celebrating 30 years of Park and Recreation Month is looking at the enduring importance and impact parks and recreation makes in all of our lives.  

Those first two endorsers of Park and Recreation Month went on to do immensely impactful things. Bush became President and skydived on his 90th birthday. Walter Payton went on to be a champion for organ donations and has an award in his name given to football players who exemplify community service. Much like them, Park and Recreation Month has evolved to be more impactful year after year. While we focus a lot on the fun and programming of Park and Recreation Month, we also aim to pair this with an important message about the impact of parks and recreation.

We can’t wait to celebrate our 30th Park and Recreation Month anniversary with every one of you. 

Roxanne Sutton is NRPA’s Senior Marketing and Communications Specialist.