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People love parks. We know this in our hearts, we see it with our own eyes, and, year after year, we have the data to prove it. Since 2016, the NRPA Research team has surveyed U.S. adults to better understand how they connect with parks and recreation. The results from these surveys form the basis of NRPA’s annual Engagement With Parks Report. The 2021 report highlights the public’s strong and broad-based support for parks and recreation.
Parks and recreation is an essential part of the lives of people coast to coast. Even a global pandemic did not keep people away from their favorite parks, trails and recreation opportunities. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents — the equivalent of 260 million people — visited a local park or recreation facility at least once during the 12-month period ending in May 2021.
The reasons people visit their local park and recreation facilities track closely with what they identify as their favorite activities. Whether it is an afternoon at the park to experience nature or the myriad of sporting options, there is a seemingly endless amount of possibilities from which to choose. For more than six in 10 people, this means visiting a local park, playground, dog park or some other local open space.
Even as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted nearly every facet of life, parks and recreation remained open and available. Seventy-two percent of U.S. adults either maintained or increased the frequency of their visits to outdoor parks, trails and other public spaces during the past year compared to before the pandemic.
Access to high-quality park and recreation opportunities is a vital factor in improving quality of life for all. It is not surprising then that four in five U.S. adults indicate access to high-quality parks and recreation is an important factor in choosing a place to live.
More than seven in 10 U.S. residents have at least one local park, playground, open space or recreation center within walking distance of their homes, and one-third of survey respondents have two or more nearby parks and/or other recreational opportunities. Unfortunately, 29 percent of people do not live within walking distance of at least one park or recreational opportunity. This means approximately 100 million U.S. residents do not have walkable access to the lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits that parks and recreation offers people. Removing any inequity in park access is critical to building strong, healthy and resilient communities. One crucial step is greater and more sustainable funding of local park and recreation agencies.
Nearly nine in 10 people agree that it is important for local, state and federal governments to fund local park and recreation agencies sufficiently in order to ensure every member of the community has equitable access to amenities, infrastructure and programming.
The people and their lived experiences make the United States a diverse nation. Hence, the public’s needs and desires from parks and recreation vary greatly by location. What may work in one part of a city may not work in another part of town or in a rural county.
Acknowledging the individuality of communities and creating a safe space for all residents to present their needs is vital in establishing lasting public involvement. Eighty percent of U.S. adults agree that park and recreation leaders should engage directly with their communities to deliver appropriate facilities and programs.
Parks and recreation transforms our cities, towns and counties into vibrant, healthy and resilient communities thanks to the tireless efforts of more than 10,000 agencies and more than 160,000 full-time park and recreation professionals across the United States. The 2021 Engagement With Parks Report makes this point clear: people place a high value on the programs and services that park and recreation agencies deliver to their local communities every day, strongly support their mission and desire their voice be heard in decision making.
Check out more in-depth key findings from the 2021 Engagement With Parks Report in our upcoming blog series beginning in October.
Melissa May is NRPA’s Senior Research Manager