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Parks and recreation is essential. Hundreds of thousands of P&R professionals, along with a cadre of volunteers and advocates, transform our cities, towns and counties into vibrant, healthy and resilient communities through high-quality park and recreation opportunities. One aspect of parks’ vitalness is the ubiquity of their usage; 6 in 7 U.S. adults visited a park, trail, open space or recreation facility at least once during the past year. For many people, parks and recreation is a daily habit.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has further highlighted how essential your work is. A recent NRPA Parks Snapshot Survey shows that more than a third of local P&R agencies across the nation were critical partners in their regions’ emergency response, from delivering nutritious meals to vulnerable members of the community and transforming their facilities into emergency shelters to providing daycare to the children of essential workers.
But even more so, the value of parks has shined throughout the public health crisis. In many communities, parks, trails and other open space amenities served as the sole source of recreation opportunities during the past spring. NRPA Parks Snapshot surveys revealed park and trail usage surged by upwards of 50 percent (or more) in many areas. Because of the tireless efforts of you and your colleagues, people continue to have opportunities to be physically and mentally healthy throughout the crisis.
The May Park Pulse poll showed that a vast majority of U.S. adults found exercising at their local parks, trails and open spaces essential to maintaining their mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, nearly 3 in 5 poll respondents, including two-thirds of parents, told us that it is very or extremely essential to be able to walk, jog, hike and/or bike.
We can see the impact of your work through the delivery of programming not only outdoors, but also in the home. P&R professionals are providing a wealth of recreation offerings online for people of all ages and abilities. This includes physical activity classes, health and safety courses, health literacy classes and academic classes. The June Park Pulse poll found that more than 4 in 5 adults — particularly parents and younger adults — highly value the virtual health resources delivered by local P&R professionals.
P&R professionals are among the nation’s biggest providers of childcare and youth services. Out-of-school programs are places for children to learn and grow and are a critical source of nutritious meals for many children. Per the July Park Pulse poll, 9 in 10 U.S. adults want children to have access to community-based programs and services this summer. The support for these programs is equal among parents and nonparents.
As states, cities and towns across the nation lifted stay-at-home orders in late spring, many people began to consider their options for time off. Health safety concerns over flying, economic necessity and other considerations will keep many people closer to home for their vacation plans. Fifty-four percent of people responding to the August Park Pulse poll said that they were more likely to pick a vacation spot closer to home than in prior years. P&R amenities are the likely destination for many people taking time off close to home this summer.
The pandemic has reinforced the fact that P&R is essential. At the same time, the resulting economic turmoil has made the work of many P&R professionals ever more challenging. Never before has it been more critical to tell your agency’s story to your local political leaders, funders and the general public. Combining the data above with your agency’s success stories paints a picture of the essential nature of parks and recreation.
Kevin Roth is Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology at NRPA.