It is no surprise that quality of life amenities, including parks, outdoor recreation venues, and indoor recreation centers are important factors in helping attract new residents, retain current residents, increase tourism, and bolster economic development. Multiple studies have found that talented workers, remote workers and retirees are more likely to locate in places with a variety of amenities.
But how can community leaders justify investments in recreation amenities? It is difficult to quantify the actual financial impacts of parks, outdoor recreation facilities and recreation centers within a single community; yet many community leaders are seeking precisely that information to help them with decision making and building the case for supporting such investments. As with many community decisions, making the case for investments is a combination of science and art. There is impact data available from many studies, but often the scope is at a broad scale (state or national). These studies are useful as reasonable impact assumptions can be made based on what is learned through each study. In addition, the studies can offer methods and data measurement ideas for local leaders to utilize to conduct their own quantifiable impact studies or surveys. Data is just one part of the equation, community leaders must add the “art” too – the qualitative stories from businesses, visitors and residents about the value recreational amenities provide to them.
This article will share overviews and findings of, as well as links to, multiple studies and sources to help community leaders demonstrate and share the impacts of such amenities and the value of ongoing investments in recreational facilities.
Parks and Outdoor Recreation
According to a 2021 study “2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report” by the Outdoor Foundation, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the previous year. The COVID-19 pandemic was the main driver of this trend, leading to outdoor activities becoming a safe way to socialize, improve physical and mental health, connect with family, and recover from screen fatigue. The study offers several key findings about participation in outdoor activities, as well as the types of outdoor activities that people are undertaking.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that “encouraging growth on Main Streets and in existing neighborhoods while promoting outdoor recreation can help foster community revitalization, protect air and water quality, create jobs, support economic growth and diversification, and offer new opportunities for people to connect with the natural world.” The EPA’s Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program webpage offers strategies and activities to build an outdoor recreation economy based on what they learned through the pilot cohort of communities in the program.
The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) was formed by several outdoor recreation trade associations. Their website includes a section called “Outdoor Recreation Drives the American Economy” dedicated to the economic impact of outdoor recreation based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). This data can be reviewed by state or industry.
According to the 2021 Engagement with Parks Report by the National Recreation and Park Association, 80 percent of U.S. adults seek high-quality parks and recreation when choosing a place to live, and 87 percent of people agree that parks and recreation is an important service provided by their local government.
A report entitled Promoting Parks and Recreation’s Role in Economic Development, conducted by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis for the National Recreation and Park Association found that parks and recreation play a critical role in talent attraction, and subsequently business attraction - of all sizes, and business retention and expansion. The report includes case studies and suggestions for utilizing park and recreation assets and partnering with park and recreation professionals in economic development
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) offers multiple best practices, research reports and metrics to support outdoor recreation, including a guide to fundraising, the Park and Recreation Professionals’ Guide to Fundraising, as well as a resource titled, Making the Case: Parks and Health, which helps local leaders frame parks and recreation as critical public health infrastructure.
USDA Rural Development has produced a resource guide, “Recreation Economy at USDA: Economic Development Resources for Rural Communities” which includes information and considerations for building a recreation economy; and resources available from USDA’s Forest Service and Rural Development, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. USDA programs can support technical assistance, infrastructure, business development and conservation/easement projects.
The Florida Parks & Recreation Impact Calculator requires a membership to access, but one can view a sample report produced through the calculator to help community leaders envision the data elements they can collect locally to share the impact of parks and recreation.
The State Outdoor Business Alliance Network (SOBAN) has published a report called “Inspiring the Future Outdoor Recreation Economy 2021” which includes a great infographic exploring the ways that outdoor recreation contributes to the economy.
- Miracle, a playground supplier, has a great blog post that lists and describes the benefits of parks and 15 reasons why parks are important.
- HRG, an engineering firm shared this blog post, “5 Economic Benefits of Parks and Recreation Facilities.”
- Headwaters Economics shared this article, “How Outdoor Recreation Supports Rural Economic Development” which includes statistics about the impacts on population and earnings per job in urban and rural counties with recreational assets.
Oak Park IL has a nice community webpage where the local impact and benefits of park and outdoor recreation are demonstrated. It is a good example for communities looking to tell their own stories of impact and benefit:
What about Recreation Centers?
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) conducted a national poll to gather input on the services and programs that they felt should be offered through community centers. The results showed that most of the respondents see a need for services and programming beyond the traditional focus of fitness and fun. The page includes an interactive chart that allows the user to look at respondent data about program and services preferences through various characteristics (age, gender, income, education, etc.)
The impacts of a community recreation center extend beyond the income generated from user fees for the facility. An article posted by Sports Facilities Companies reports that:
- A community center can serve as an activity hub for children, families, senior citizens, community organizations and more.
- Community recreation centers can provide guidance and build leadership among community youth.
- Recreation centers can provide space for educational activities for both children and adult learners.
- Recreation centers have been shown to increase property values leading to increased tax revenues for local governments.
In another online article, “11 Benefits of a Community Recreation Center,” Sports Facilities Companies summarized 11 key benefits of a community recreation center: stay healthy, reduce stress, improve family ties, reduce crime rates, increase property values, keep employees alert, highlight diversity, boost students’ performance, provide child care, promote public safety, and promote tourism.
It can be challenging to quantify the impact of a recreation center, but one example was found in the literature. As shared in an online news post, “Proposed recreation center to infuse money in economy, create other benefits in High Country,” students and faculty at Appalachian State University conducted a benefit-cost analysis on a proposed $26.125 million recreation center. As part of this analysis, they estimated how many youth tournaments could be held annually, what monthly membership fees for users would be and what the expected health care savings for members would be. They estimated annual community benefits that could range from $7.2 million to $15.6 million.
Sometimes looking at another feasibility study and the elements it is researching can help community leaders begin the process of making their case for a recreation center. Here are a few we found to share:
If you have any questions or need further assistance in developing your case for recreation, please contact the IDM team.