NRPA Parks Snapshot: Special Edition October Survey Results

By Kevin Roth | Posted on October 16, 2020

Parks Snapshot October blog 410

The NRPA Parks Snapshot provides the latest data on how park and recreation leaders from across the country are confronting the coronavirus disease 2019 (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 October survey:

What's Open/What's Closed

This fall, park and recreation professionals and their agencies are making 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: 97 percent; regional parks: 94 percent) are open.

Other amenities reported fully open at agencies include:

  • Golf courses (99 percent of agencies)
  • Skateparks (98 percent)
  • Dog parks (98 percent)
  • Tennis courts and other racket sports (98 percent)
  • Playgrounds (93 percent)
  • Outdoor sports fields (89 percent)
  • Campgrounds (84 percent)
  • Temporary restroom facilities (e.g., porta johns) (81 percent)
  • Basketball courts (77 percent)
  • Permanent restrooms at outdoor amenities (e.g., parks, trails) (69 percent)
  • Indoor aquatic centers (66 percent)
  • Recreation centers (63 percent)
  • Indoor gyms (53 percent)

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

  • Drinking fountains (54 percent)
  • Senior centers (57 percent)

Fall and Winter Programming and Services

Many agencies are offering full or truncated offerings of their fall and winter programs, including:

  • Farmers markets (89 percent of agencies)
  • Non-contact sports (84 percent)
  • Childcare for children of healthcare providers/first responders (81 percent)
  • Childcare for children of the general public (76 percent)
  • Preschool offerings (76 percent)
  • Contact sports leagues (59 percent)
  • 5K races and other running/walking events (58 percent)
  • Holiday events and festivals (58 percent)
  • Sports tournaments (54 percent)

Relative to programming earlier this year, fewer agencies are opting to completely cancel events, even those that involve large groups. Canceled fall and winter activities include:

  • Sports tournaments at agency facilities (26 percent of agencies)
  • 5K races and other running/walking events (24 percent)
  • Holiday events and festivals (23 percent)

Park and recreation professionals and their agencies continue to deliver essential services in their communities.  These include:

  • Supporting food distribution to older adults (29 percent of agencies)
  • Supporting food distribution to vulnerable youth and/or families (28 percent)
  • Opening agency facilities to serve as virtual learning centers (25 percent)
  • Opening agency facilities to provide flu shots (20 percent)

Indoor Facilities

As noted above, two-thirds of all agencies have opened all of their recreation centers and/or indoor aquatic centers to the public. To promote greater safety at their facilities for visitors and staff, agencies are implementing the following strategies:

  • Installing signage warning of COVID-19 risks and informing of physical distancing practices (82 percent of agencies)
  • Establishing policies for face coverings for the public when using facilities (78 percent)
  • Installing additional hand sanitizing/washing stations to encourage healthy hygiene (77 percent)
  • Implementing environmental protective measures, including installing plexiglass barriers, marking the floor to encourage physical distancing or conducting touchless transactions (75 percent)
  • Using reservation systems to control the number of people using a facility (61 percent)
  • Closing or limiting access to common areas where people gather (60 percent)

Lasting Impacts of the Pandemic

COVID-19 has impacted all local park and recreation agencies. Park and recreation professionals have risen to this unprecedented occasion by taking action, changing and implementing new policies, and being innovators in their community, including:

  • Delivering recreation programming virtually (e.g., YouTube, Zoom, public access television) (66 percent of agencies)
  • Improving coordination with local public health agencies (47 percent)
  • Providing programming focused on mental health and well-being of public (yoga, meditation, tai chi, arts, journaling, etc.) (36 percent)
  • Broadening agency staff access to health and well-being resources and tools (30 percent)
  • Increasing public access to WiFi at indoor and outdoor facilities (28 percent)
  • Revising fee structures (26 percent)
  • Transforming outdoor spaces to accommodate outdoor learning and working from home (22 percent)
  • Closing streets for pedestrian traffic and added open space (8 percent)

The pandemic also has impacted many local park and recreation agencies’ strategic priorities as they relate to health equity and social justice. Seven in eight park leaders note that the pandemic has impacted strategic priorities in health equity and social justice at their agency. These impacts include:

  • Emphasizing the importance of making sure communications reach all people (64 percent)
  • Spotlighting a bigger role for park and recreation professionals in supporting the health and social needs of community members (62 percent)
  • Creating a deeper understanding of health and social inequities across our communities (41 percent) 

A few comments shared about lasting impacts:

  • “This whole COVID process has brought a new creativity to our department and awakening to the safety of the whole community. Despite its difficulties, it has brought our department together to provide what we can for all of the people.”
  • “All staff have been trained by our local police [department] in de-escalation. We have two levels of training. Managers/All other. This will continue after COVID-19 due to the positive response from the community and our staff safety.”
  • “The pandemic has truly cemented our profession as ‘Essential Service’ and trying to level social equity disparities in our community! Our residents are grateful for what we've accomplished and see our role as essential – especially with all of the social service activities we've done: COVID-19 testing, food pantries, food distribution events, green market and virtual day school for working parents!”
  • “Our parks department currently reports to Public Works, which has created communication challenges and gaps in service over the years. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of parks and rec staff working in unison and demonstrated it's more important than ever for parks and rec to plan, strategize and deliver services in a coordinated effort. COVID-19 put a magnifying glass on our parks and accentuated any breakdowns in our operation that may have existed previously. The challenges for the parks staff created an opportunity for rec staff to step up and assist with tasks normally left to parks crews. Our agency is now looking at re-organizing our department back to a traditional parks and recreation department as a result.”

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