NRPA Parks Snapshot: Special Edition December Survey Results

By Kevin Roth | Posted on December 4, 2020

December Parks Snapshot 410

The NRPA Parks Snapshot provides the latest data on how park and recreation leaders from across the country are confronting the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. I hope you find this information helpful as you make decisions at your agency during this uncertain time and as you continue following the guidance provided by your local and state governments and health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among the key findings from the special edition December survey:

What's Open/What's Closed

Park and recreation professionals and their agencies continue to make the vast majority of their amenities available to the public. This includes nearly all agencies reporting that all their trails (99 percent of agencies) and parks (local parks: 98 percent; regional parks: 97 percent) are open.

Other amenities reported fully open at agencies include:

  • Dog parks (98 percent)
  • Golf courses (95 percent)
  • Tennis courts and other racket sports (95 percent)
  • Playgrounds (94 percent)
  • Outdoor sports fields (79 percent)
  • Campgrounds (79 percent)
  • Outdoor ice rinks (78 percent)
  • Basketball courts (75 percent)
  • Temporary restroom facilities (e.g., porta-johns) (74 percent)
  • Indoor aquatic centers (68 percent)
  • Indoor ice rinks (66 percent)
  • Permanent restrooms at outdoor amenities (e.g., parks, trails) (61 percent)
  • Recreation centers (54 percent)
  • Indoor gyms (47 percent)

While most amenities and facilities have fully reopened, the following have remained closed at many agencies:

  • Senior centers (70 percent)
  • Drinking fountains (58 percent)
  • Indoor gyms (36 percent)
  • Recreation centers (28 percent)

Holiday and Winter Programming

Many agencies are offering full or truncated holiday and winter programs, including:

  • Childcare for children of healthcare providers/first responders (83 percent)
  • Farmers markets (77 percent)
  • Childcare for children of the general public (70 percent)
  • Preschool offerings (66 percent)
  • Outdoor sports leagues (59 percent)
  • Holiday events and festivals (53 percent)
  • 5K races and other running/walking events (51 percent)
  • Sports tournaments (38 percent)
  • Indoor sports leagues (32 percent)

Relative to earlier this fall, more agencies are opting to completely cancel events. Fall and winter activities most likely to have been completely canceled include:

  • Holiday events and festivals (35 percent)
  • Sports tournaments at agency facilities (34 percent)
  • 5K races and other running/walking events (31 percent)
  • Outdoor sports leagues (18 percent)

Budgets and Staffing

Many park and recreation leaders continue to face challenging budget situations as local cities, towns and counties cut general fund support. These challenges include:

  • 48 percent of park and recreation agencies are facing cuts to operations spending as of January 1, with a typical reduction at 20 percent. 
  • 33 percent of park and recreation agencies are making reductions to their capital budget as of January 1, with a typical reduction of 37 percent. Further, 15 percent of agency leaders report that their capital budget has been cut by at least half.

Nearly 4 in 5 agencies have taken steps that affect staffing. Currently, the most common expense-cutting measure is the elimination of all non-essential travel (58 percent). Additional measures include:

  • Hiring freeze of full-time staff (39 percent)
  • Laying off/furloughing part-time and seasonal staff (38 percent)
  • Shifting full-time staff into roles typically filled by seasonal/part-time staff (38 percent)
  • Hiring freeze of part-time staff (36 percent)
  • Cutting/eliminating professional development/education (30 percent)
  • Laying off/furloughing full-time staff (13 percent)
  • Reduced non-salary/wage benefits to employees (5 percent)
  • Mandatory unpaid leave (e.g., 4-day work weeks) (3 percent)

Staff Well-Being

Park and recreation leaders are implementing a number of measures to ensure a high degree of health and well-being among staff, including:

  • Requiring face coverings in the workplace (91 percent)
  • Mandating PPE and masks for employees in the field (90 percent)
  • Altering workspaces to maintain physical distance (80 percent)
  • Offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) (80 percent)
  • Providing access to flu vaccinations (69 percent)
  • Training employees on personal protective measures (64 percent)
  • Offering access to COVID-19 tests (40 percent)
  • Conducting well-being calls by supervisors/management (28 percent)
  • Featuring mindfulness training (24 percent)
  • Providing resources to support basic needs (e.g., food, medical supplies, shopping) (11 percent)
  • Offering childcare for employees in the field (10 percent)
  • Maintaining on-staff doctors, nurses, and/or physician assistants (7 percent)

Community Mental Health Post-Pandemic

Ensuring the highest levels of mental health and well-being in our communities always has been a priority for park and recreation leaders, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made this need even greater. Seven in 10 park and recreation leaders envision their agency’s role in supporting post-pandemic community mental health and well-being as some or all of the following:

  • Building partnerships with mental and behavioral healthcare providers (43percent)
  • Offering virtual programming focused on mental health and well-being (39 percent)
  • Training staff to better support mental health and well-being (38 percent)
  • Offering in-person programming focused on mental health and well-being (34 percent)
  • Conducting well-being checks with community members (22 percent)
  • Providing a platform for dialogue centered on mental health and well-being (19 percent)


View The Full Results


In addition, here are highlights of the survey results from specific segments:

The full results of the survey include verbatim comments shared by park and recreation leaders across the nation on their agencies’ experiences in confronting COVID-19. This is an uncertain time with many unanswered questions, and we encourage you to continue the conversation with your colleagues around how your agency is confronting COVID-19 on NRPA Connect.

For more information and to see results from additional surveys, visit NRPA's Parks Snapshot Surveys webpage.

For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.

Kevin Roth is Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Technology at NRPA.