The 2021 Agency Performance Review

April 15, 2021, Department, by Melissa May

2021 May Research The 2021 Agency Performance Review 410

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Data is a vital tool when telling the park and recreation story. The ability to connect community impact to the needed financial resources is key when addressing stakeholders and elected officials. Those points are made even stronger when you can compare your agency with its peers.

The 2021 NRPA Agency Performance Review (2021 APR), our annual review of data and insights for U.S. park and recreation agencies, allows for just that. The report summarizes the key findings from NRPA Park Metrics, our benchmarking tool that assists park and recreation professionals in the effective management and planning of their operating resources and capital facilities.

The 2021 APR represents data provided through the Park Metrics Agency Performance Survey by nearly 1,000 unique park and recreation agencies across the United States. While the report paints a picture of “the typical” park and recreation agency, you can learn even more by examining the data by population, jurisdiction type, region, agency staffing and budgets thanks to interactive charts and graphs.

Key findings from the 2021 APR include:

Park Facilities

  • Residents per Park – There is typically one park for every 2,227 residents.
  • Acres of Parkland per 1,000 Residents – The typical park and recreation agency has 9.9 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents in the jurisdiction.
  • Outdoor Park and Recreation Facilities – An overwhelming majority of park and recreation agencies have playgrounds (94.4 percent) and basketball courts (87.4 percent) in their portfolio of assets.
  • Miles of Trails – The typical park and recreation agency manages or maintains 12 miles of trails for walking, hiking, running and/or biking.
  • Indoor Park and Recreation Facilities – A majority of agencies offer community centers and recreation centers; 2 in 5 agencies offer senior centers.


  • Programming Offered by Park and Recreation Agencies – Key programming activities include themed special events, social recreation events, team sports, fitness enhancement classes, and health and wellness education.
  • Targeted Programs for Children, Older Adults and People With Disabilities – Eighty-three percent of agencies offer summer camp for their communities’ younger residents.

Responsibilities of Park and Recreation Agencies

  • Key Responsibilities – Top roles include operating and maintaining parks and indoor facilities, providing recreation programming and services, and conducting jurisdiction-wide special events.
  • Other Responsibilities – Operating, maintaining or contracting golf courses or tourism attractions and managing large performance outdoor amphitheaters lead the list of other agency responsibilities.


  • Staffing – The typical park and recreation agency has a payroll of 44.3 full-time equivalent staff (FTEs).
    FTEs per 10,000 Residents – The typical park and recreation agency has 8.2 FTEs on staff for each 10,000 residents in the jurisdiction served by the agency.
  • Responsibilities – Operations and maintenance, programming, and administration are the main responsibilities of park and recreation workers.


  • Annual Operating Expenditures – The typical park and recreation agency has annual operating expenditures of $4,898,633.
    Operating Expenditures per Capita – The typical park and recreation agency has annual operating expenses of $88.30 on a per capita basis.
  • Operating Expenditures per Acre – The median level of operating expenditures is $7,556 per acre of park and non-park sites managed by the agency.
  • Operating Expenditures per FTE – The typical park and recreation agency spends $99,016 in annual operating expenditures for each employee.
  • Distribution of Operating Expenditures – At the typical park and recreation agency, staffing costs account for 54 percent of the operating budget.
  • Operating Expenditures Dedicated to Parks or Recreation – The typical park and recreation agency dedicates 44 percent of its operating budget to park management and maintenance and 43 percent to recreation.


  • Sources of Operating Expenditures – Park and recreation agencies derive 61 percent of their operating expenditures from general fund tax support.
  • Park and Recreation Revenues per Capita – The typical park and recreation agency generates $19.38 in revenue annually for each resident in the jurisdiction.
  • Revenue as a Percentage of Operating Expenditures (Cost Recovery) – The typical park and recreation agency recovers 22.9 percent of its operating expenditures from non-tax revenue.
  • Five-Year Capital Budget Spending – Park and recreation agencies will spend a median of $6 million in capital expenditures budgeted over the next five years.
  • Targets for Capital Expenditures – On average, 54 percent of the capital budget is designated for renovation, while 32 percent is geared toward new development.
  • Value of Deferred Maintenance Projects per Agency – On average, park and recreation agencies have $17.4 million of deferred maintenance projects on their books.


  • Park and Recreation Policies – Four in five park and recreation agencies ban the use of tobacco products at most or all of their parks and facilities.

Compare Your Agency With Its Peers

The 2021 APR and NRPA Park Metrics are not standards, but vital starting points for a larger discussion. These resources allow park and recreation professionals to make informed decisions and support a persuasive case for greater agency funding.

A valuable feature of Park Metrics is the ability to identify agencies of similar size, budget, location and/or jurisdiction type, which allows for a deeper peer-to-peer connection and exchange of information. For example, the typical agency serving a jurisdiction population of 65,000 has 61.2 FTEs on its payroll. If your agency has 71 FTEs, an outsider may conclude that your agency is overstaffed. By identifying your peer agencies, you are able to counter this charge because you learned in your conversations with peers that your agency delivers a wider breadth of amenities and services than the typical 65,000-resident park and recreation agency.

We look forward to hearing about the ways you and your agency use this data and the peer connections you make. Please share with us how your agency has used data from Park Metrics and the 2021 APR to identify opportunities for improvements and to make the case for greater funding and staffing.

Thank You

The NRPA Research team would like to take a moment to acknowledge all those park and recreation professionals who made this report possible. We know this has been a difficult year for everyone, and your commitment to sharing data and advancing the field through your participation in NRPA Park Metrics is incredibly appreciated. Whether your agency represents a community large or small, whether you have contributed for one year or many years, whether you collaborated with co-workers or tackled the survey alone, we thank you for making this possible. If your agency has not recently submitted data to Park Metrics, please consider doing so today. We are here to help. 

Melissa May is NRPA’s Senior Research Manager.