U.S. Adults Place High Value on Parks and Recreation

September 28, 2023, Department, by Melissa May and Catherine Tepper

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Park and recreation professionals foster healthy and prosperous communities by providing programming and places for all. Since 2016, NRPA’s Research team has conducted an annual survey of 1,000 U.S. adults to better understand how the public engages with local parks and recreation. The results provide insight on how local park and recreation facilities impact our nation and inform the recently released Engagement With Parks Report.

Local parks and recreation continues to play an integral role in people’s daily lives. Parks and recreation facilities provide a wide array of opportunities for community members to come together, help maintain healthy ecosystems and find a moment of peace outdoors. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents — the equivalent of more than 280 million people — visited a local park or recreation facility at least once between May 2022 and May 2023. Among people who visited a park within the past three months, parents are the most frequent visitors at 88 percent.

Not surprisingly, people with nearby access to parks and recreation facilities are more likely to use that infrastructure. Seventy-one percent of survey participants responded that they live within a walkable distance of a park or recreation facility. Meanwhile, 37 percent indicate that they live within a walkable distance of more than one of these areas. Despite these high percentages of people who live within walking distance to a park, 29 percent of survey respondents — the equivalent of 97 million people — said that they do not have walkable access to a park or recreational facility.

When choosing a neighborhood in which to live, 84 percent of survey respondents indicated that proximity to high-quality parks, playgrounds, open spaces or other recreational facilities is a determining factor. A desire to live near prime park and recreation opportunities is common across nearly all segments of the population. More than 60 percent of survey participants said that distance to these areas is “extremely” or “very” important in their choice of residence.

Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults agree that parks and recreation provides an important local government service. This strong support spans every segment of the population. Additionally, people hold park and recreation agencies at virtually the same high level of significance as other major local government services, such as utilities, police and fire protection, roads/transportation, health services, education, economic development, and social services.

Ensuring safe, accessible, inclusive and welcoming spaces is a top priority for park and recreation professionals. However, this does not mean that every community member feels welcome all the time. Sixty-five percent of survey participants described their local park and recreation facilities as easily accessible, 63 percent described them as safe and welcoming, and 52 percent said their parks were inclusive to people of all races, ethnicities and incomes. Those who believe local parks and recreation is inclusive of those with all abilities visited park and recreation locations twice as often as those who did not.

Community engagement is essential for park and recreation agencies to ensure their programming and amenities meet the needs and desires of every person in the communities they serve. Eighty-eight percent of U.S. adults indicate that their local park and recreation agencies must engage directly with the public to ensure every community member has access to amenities, infrastructure and programming that meet their specific needs and desires. More than two-thirds of respondents agreed that this engagement is “extremely” or “very” important.

The Engagement With Parks Report displays the significance of parks in the daily lives of people living in the United States. With more than 280 million people visiting parks and recreation facilities within the past year — 71 percent of people living within walking distance of their local parks, and 84 percent using access to quality parks and recreation facilities as a determining factor in their choice of residence — the statistics speak for themselves.

Melissa May is Senior Research Manager at NRPA. Catherine Tepper is Research and Evaluation Intern Co-op at NRPA.