Investing in Shade

May 23, 2024, Department, by Alexandra Reynolds

0624 operations investing in shade 410

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Park and recreation professionals strive to connect their community members with the valuable benefits parks, recreation and green spaces provide. However, particularly as we head into the summer months, parkgoers need shade to find respite from ultraviolet (UV) rays while enjoying the outdoors. “Children and adolescents should be especially protected from excessive UV radiation exposure because severe sunburns early in life may particularly increase risk of melanoma,” according to the American Cancer Society.

By providing ample shade, park and recreation agencies can help community members embrace sun safety while taking part in outdoor recreation and play. Parks, dog parks, aquatics facilities, skate parks, beaches, and athletic fields and facilities all are spots where people may be seeking needed shade throughout the seasons. While trees are excellent shade providers, some facilities and locations may benefit from the addition of shade structures to expand available shade. With extra shade, more visitors can comfortably stay outside longer as they enjoy fresh air and recreation.


Shade structures are manufactured in a variety of materials that allow for creative design choices. When considering what type of shade structure to install, weigh the qualities that are most important to your park and recreation agency regarding style, longevity and maintenance. Two prominent options are steel and fabric shade structures.

Steel shade structures offer year-round shade cover, sturdiness and a long lifespan, says Jennifer Graves, marketing supervisor at Poligon. She advises park and recreation professionals to select designs that minimize opportunities for bird nesting in undesirable locations, such as pavilions and gazebos where parkgoers may want to have a picnic or host a party. “Hidden bolt connections remove unsightly spacing that would normally attract bird nesting,” says Graves. What’s more, hiding wires for security systems and lights within the design and selecting colors for downspouts and gutters that match the structure enhance the look of the amenity, she says.

Fabric shade structures lend unique benefits, like opportunities to be creative with color and dynamic angles, as well as lower cost, says Graves.

In 2023, Jennifer Egan, marketing coordinator at Kraftsman Commercial Playgrounds & Water Parks, told Parks & Recreation, “Fabric shade structures are popular for parks, schools, zoos and museums, among other venues. They are more economical compared to steel shade. However, they do require some basic maintenance, such as tensioning of cables that holds the material in place.”

Both steel and fabric shade structures offer parkgoers a needed retreat from UV rays. By taking advantage of design and customization options, park and recreation professionals can enhance their parks and facilities with shade structures that complement existing site amenities.

SEE ALSO:A Shade Structure for Every Occasion,” Jennifer Graves, Parks & Recreation, June 2018, Vol. 53, Iss. 6. “Shade Adds Value to Your Park,” Jennifer Egan, Parks & Recreation, June 2023, Vol. 58, Iss. 6.

Alexandra Reynolds is Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.