The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) recently released results from its new nation-wide study quantifying the health, social and economic impacts of formal park and recreation (P&R) agencies. In its executive summary, the NRPA demonstrated that the benefits are more than just for entertainment. Based on these key findings, the NRPA concludes that P&R agencies are “essential public services… just as water, sewer and public safety.”
Improving and promoting places and programs for individuals to be physically active can improve community health by 25%. This includes decreasing the incidence of obesity, reducing levels of stress and lowered blood pressure and perceived physical health.
Among other impacts, the study found that access to parks and recreation opportunities is strongly linked to reductions in crime and reduced juvenile delinquency. A similar study found that for every $1 spent on P&R, the community saved $6 in criminal justice activity. The city of Chicago specifically found that community involvement in parks and recreation is associated with lower levels of crime and vandalism. Our own Police Chief Tracy Wyckoff has expressed his concern about the lack of activities that are engaging and accessible in our rural communities. And, Wycoff acknowledges that opportunities that do exist are not sustainable due to dwindling volunteer efforts. “It’s going to take someone to orchestrate and administer events and activities to get kids motivated. And we need agencies to get our kids connected to the community, to build relationships,” says Wyckoff. “We will have much fewer problems if we can make this happen.”
The study goes on to show that, nation-wide, local and regional P&R agencies generated nearly $140 billion in economic activity and supported almost 1 million jobs in 2013. These numbers do not include dollar amounts saved in reducing criminal justice costs or health care costs.
Barriers for Rural Communities
While these findings are encouraging, the NRPA also states that rural communities face specific challenges with regard to impacting residents’ physical, social and economic well-being. The organization has found that the smaller populations spread over greater geographic regions makes it difficult for many individuals to utilize P&R opportunities. Also, smaller communities tend to have a smaller tax base and resources are spread thin, leaving much of the work of to volunteer efforts.
For full report and more information go to www.nrpa.org