Parks and Recreation Supports Human Development

In previous blogs, we’ve demonstrated the many ways parks and recreation programs help promote health and wellness and fosters social cohesiveness. But there are so many meaningful ways these programs enrich the lives of community members. In the following article, we’ll explore a few of the significant ways parks and recreation support human development for people of all ages and abilities.

Learn and Strengthen Social Skills

You may not think of them as centers for learning, but playgrounds, hiking trails, and even park benches provide lots of opportunities for children and adults to learn social skills.
More than just a place for children to run, jump and climb, playgrounds also provide a safe space for children to interact with each other and learn interpersonal skills. Unlike sports which are grounded in rules and can be competitive, free play on playgrounds allows outgoing and shy children of all abilities to interact without having to worry about winning or losing. Playground features such as merry-go-rounds and see-saws encourage cooperation and team building.

Adults of all ages and abilities can strengthen their social skills when walking trails or taking a break on a bench. These spots encourage adults to greet neighbors with a simple “Hello” or strike up a friendly conversation. Though these opportunities seem small on the surface, they lead to a growing sense of community and human connection.

Learn and Strengthen Physical Skills

Adults and children alike need dedicated time for physical activity each day for optimal health and wellness. Unfortunately, most recess and lunch breaks do not provide ample time for such activity. After-school activities and programs at local parks provide children and youth of all ages with opportunities to stay active each day and develop necessary physical and motor skills. Whereas a leisurely walk, hike, or jog before or after work, gives adults the chance to exercise, clear their minds, feel less exhausted and shake off stress which in turn helps them maintain their physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

Learn and Strengthen Emotional and Intellectual Development

Interacting with nature and spending time in green spaces is beneficial for children and adults in multiple ways. The brain just like the body needs exercise and stimulation in order to develop and stay healthy. Parks and recreation programs give children and adults contact with nature and let them explore and experience a multitude of sights, sounds, and textures which help them develop and strengthen their emotional and intellectual connections to their environments and may spur creativity, too.

Parks and recreation do more than provide the perfect spot for a picnic or a pick-up game of Wiffle ball. These invaluable agencies also provide the programs, activities, and environments that lead to positive physical, emotional and mental development for children and adults of all ages and abilities.

Parks and Recreation Supports The Economic Vitality of Communities

Building a strong sense of community and boosting health and wellness through the many outdoor activities, events, and programs they offer are just two of your local parks and recreation agency’s biggest accomplishments. Through their hard work and expertise, you and your neighbors can hike trails, play tennis, fish, kayak, enjoy various concerts, festivals, and fairs, and enroll your children in recreational camps. Yet, there is another significant accomplishment of local parks and recreation departments that often goes unnoticed: their considerable contribution to their community’s economic vitality.

A recent National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) report conducted by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University found that parks and recreation services supported 1.1 million jobs while spending at local parks and recreation agencies contributed over $166 in economic activity. Those are some incredibly impressive numbers!

Below are just a few of the noteworthy ways parks and recreation programs support their communities’ economic vitality.

Create New Jobs & Business Opportunities

In addition to offering diverse job opportunities that range from high-level directorships to administrative assistants to out-in-the-field park operators and program instructors, thriving parks and recreation program also attracts more businesses to the community which increases local spending. When parks host festivals, concerts, parades, marathons, and other community-driven events, residents, and visitors spend money at surrounding businesses such as food trucks, ice cream parlors, restaurants, boutique shops, bed and breakfasts, and other local services and shops.

Provide Affordable Childcare Alternatives

Every spring, working parents are faced with a challenge: What do the kids do when school is out for summer? While enlisting the help of daycare and childcare services is an option, many of these services may not accommodate every community member’s budget. Parks and recreation services offer affordable childcare alternatives for working families. Their summer camps and programs are cost-effective alternatives that allow children to learn new skills, enjoy fun activities, stay active and make new friends – and give parents peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands while they’re working. Plus, these programs help the summer months fly by for both kids and their parents.

Revitalize the Community

When neighbors are engaged and active in their parks and recreation programs and events, they evolve into advocates for their community. This newfound advocacy acts as a magnet that not only attracts visitors but new interested homebuyers as well. This positive word of mouth leads to a prosperous and welcoming community that will continue to thrive.

Clearly, parks and recreation agencies now only provide ample opportunities for communities to enjoy open spaces, stay active and connect with their neighbors, they also create jobs, attract new businesses, generate local spending, and improve its overall economic vitality. Through parks and recreation programs, communities can truly thrive and meet their economic needs.

Parks and Recreation Fosters Social Cohesiveness

You may be familiar with the term “social cohesion” but you may not know exactly what it means. Social cohesion essentially refers to the connectedness and solidarity among groups in a community. This concept stems from the desire to create greater societal balance in such areas as health, education, income, and housing.

Parks and recreation agencies strive to foster social cohesiveness in our communities by providing equal access to its facilities, events, and programs to all people regardless of age, gender, background, ethnicity, or ability.

Here are just a few of the many ways your parks and recreation agencies are connecting our communities!

Strengthening Community & Advocacy

Parks and recreation spaces and programs have positive impacts on physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness by encouraging people to actively participate in activities that help them stay fit, shake off stress and clear their minds. In addition to these individual benefits, parks and recreation programs also help promote healthy communities. P&R events and activities help bring families, friends, and neighbors together and encourage them to not only become more involved in their community but also be more aware of its various needs. As once passive residents become active advocates for their community then the neighborhood will thrive. As positive word of mouth spreads, more people will want to join the community. When this happens, the result is a safer, cleaner, financially stable, and more inviting environment.

Celebrating Diversity & Inclusion

Parks and recreation programs foster positive interactions and communications between children and adults in different groups. These activities and events help erase the feelings of anxiety and fear that may be experienced when unfamiliar groups of different backgrounds encounter each other in day-to-day life. When groups of people are participating in recreational activities, they are focused less on each other’s differences and more on the fun they’re enjoying. The more people from different groups and backgrounds enjoy parks and recreation activities and events together, the more likely they are to learn from each other and share their cultural experiences. By fostering diversity in its programs, P&R strives to break down barriers that separate various groups and promote unity.

Including Individuals

Parks and recreation agencies are also dedicated to ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to participate in their community activities and events. Although parks and recreation activities are enjoyed by many children and adults, many seniors and persons with disabilities are often unable to participate in most physical activities. This lack of participation can sometimes leave them feeling dejected as well as put them at greater risk of physical, emotional, and mental health conditions. By adapting existing activities and introducing new programs that are age-appropriate and modified for individuals with disabilities, P&R agencies ensure that no one feels diminished or left out of their communities. These programs not only allow seniors and adults and children with disabilities to socialize and exercise, they also promote inclusivity, diversity, tolerance, and acceptance.

As you can see, parks and recreation programs are not only beneficial for individual health and wellness, they’re also vital for promoting a healthy, flourishing community that’s more diverse, and inclusive. Through parks and recreation programs, communities can focus less on their differences and embrace the common interests they share.

Parks and Recreation Promotes Health and Wellness

Summer is here and you’re ready to get outside and get active. Probably more so this year than any other year before. Fourteen months of increased indoor inactivity due to the necessary public health restrictions has done more than made many of us bored and restless – it’s also affected our physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness.

Now that restrictions are being lifted, the weather is getting warmer and daylight is lasting longer, it’s time to go outside, get active, and put our health and wellness back on track. And you can accomplish all of those goals at your local parks and recreation resources.

From organized activities to unstructured playtime to leisurely special events, Parks and Recreation facilities help children and adults boost their physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness!

Get Active!

It’s common knowledge that outdoor activities are a proven way to stay fit and increase your physical well-being. While our minds mostly focus on such things as running, biking, and hiking, your local parks and recreation facilities offer so much more.

Besides the everyday amenities like playgrounds and trails, many local parks and recreation facilities offer a variety of summer programs that promote physical health and wellness for children and adults. From baseball and tennis camps to archery and swimming lessons to fitness and yoga classes, you’re sure to find a local park and recreation program that suits your physical activity tastes.

Looking for something different? Many parks and recreation agencies are introducing new activities to get you out of the house and back on the road to physical wellness! Staying physical is more fun with friends and family, so take part in team-based activities like mud runs, obstacle courses, or costume races. Join a local Pickleball or innertube water polo team and meet new friends. On days when organized activities are not scheduled, stay active with an hour or two of unstructured playtime. From spontaneous games of tag to random bursts of running around, some of the best physical activities are the ones that do not require any set instructions or rules.

No matter which physical activity or program you participate in at your local P&R facility, you’ll benefit from reduced blood pressure levels, lower cholesterol and better weight management. Plus, you’ll feel more energized during the day and you’ll sleep better at night.

Get In A Good Mood

Besides offering a myriad of ways to stay active and promote physical health, parks and recreation agencies provide multiple opportunities that benefit emotional health and wellness.
Listening to music is a great way to boost your mood and reduce stress. Parks in the summertime offer an abundance of ways to enjoy music. From scheduled performances in the bandstand to large-scale music festivals to the sounds of nature in the surrounding fields and trees, your emotional well-being will experience true bliss.

If you’re looking for more active and less passive ways to boost your emotional wellness, many parks and recreation services also offer various arts and crafts activities along with chess camps that help exercise your mind and emotions.

Clear Your Mind!

Studies have shown that more time spent in parks and other green spaces can help us better manage stress, depression, and anxiety. Just by frequently visiting your local park and communing with nature, you set your body free from the constant confines of closed spaces and your mind free from the everyday stress that could be detrimental to your health. The best part about spending a few quiet moments in the park is that it requires no schedule, no special attire, and no special equipment. Plus, it’s free – and freeing!

Parks and recreation agencies also help promote physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness by welcoming people of all ages, abilities, ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. If you’re looking to reconnect with the outdoors, meet up with friends and family, and improve your physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness, then the programs and activities at your local parks and recreation facilities will help you achieve those goals.

Favorite Local Parks And Recreation Spots for Spring

Springtime is the perfect time to get outside and shake off those winter blahs! This winter has seemed longer than usual due to various public health restrictions and ordinances that went into effect last year. Now that some restrictions have been lifted and our community is taking steps toward positive progress, it’s time to get your springtime fun plans in order. To help you on your way, we’d like to recommend a couple of well-known local parks and a few hidden recreational gems that you can enjoy during the warmer months.

Nottingham Park

The very first park in Chester County, Nottingham Park has lots of familiar features like multiple playgrounds, a large fitness trail, and nine pavilions for picnicking and parties, but its standout feature – and the main reason to visit – is its incredibly rare and beautiful serpentine barrens. Found in three small areas of North America, serpentine is a light-green stone that’s so low in nutrients – yet high in metals – that most plants won’t grow near it. Due to this fact, Nottingham Park’s serpentine barrens are home to a variety of rare plants and wildflowers. The serpentine barrens are so breathtaking that Nottingham Park was recently recognized as a National Natural Landmark full of unique wonders.

Core Creek Park

Located in Middletown Township, Bucks County, PA, Core Creek Park is your destination for lots of great springtime activities. If you’re looking for some vigorous exercise, Core Creek Park showcases multiple ball fields along with regulation and child-size tennis courts. For more leisurely activities, you can enjoy designated nature areas, plenty of great fishing spots filled with bass and catfish, and boat rentals and activities. Be sure to check out their website for more information about any special events scheduled for spring and summer.

Negley Park

Located high on a hilltop in Cumberland Valley, Negley Park showcases one of the most spectacular sights in all of PA: a panoramic view of the Harrisburg skyline and the mighty Susquehanna River. A favorite spot for photographers and fireworks viewing, Negley Park has plenty of park amenities to make new memories, including picnic tables, grills, basketball, tennis and pickleball courts, playgrounds, and plenty of benches for sitting and soaking up those serene sights.

Two Mile Run County Park

If you’re eager for more than an afternoon trip to the park, Two Mile Run County Park is calling you. A beautiful 2,695-acre park with a 144-acre lake and 38 miles of trails, this gem of Venango County offers everything fans of the great outdoors adore: camping, boating, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more. An ideal springtime destination, Two Mile Run County Park is open year-round so you can experience its natural beauty every season.

These are just a few of the many great local parks and recreational spots in Pennsylvania – and there are over 600 more just waiting for you to discover them this spring. Before you head out to these favorites or any local Pennsylvania Parks for your springtime fun, be sure to visit their websites first to familiarize yourself with any public health protocols that are currently in place.

Uncommon Springtime Fun In Your Local Park!

The trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and the temps are climbing: All the signs that tell us that springtime is here! You’ve been cooped up all winter long and now you want to get outside and make the most of this special season by doing something different. Local PA parks are just the place to partake in outdoor springtime activities that go beyond picnics, kite flying, and games of catch. Whether you’re in the mood for some outdoor fun that gets you moving or an outdoor activity that’s a bit more relaxed, let us help you find the uncommon springtime fun that’s best for you!

Kayaking

The kayaking craze went into overdrive last year – so much so that there were waitlists for kayak purchases due to the demand. When social distancing regulations went into effect, the interest in solitary activities (beyond jogging and biking) increased rapidly. Kayaking quickly reached the top of that activities list – and it’s easy to see why. Kayaking gets you outdoors, doubles as a low-impact exercise, and treats you to the sights and sounds of nature. Now that kayaks are back in stock, this spring is the perfect time to enjoy this popular outdoor activity in your local Pennsylvania parks!

Slacklining

A combination of balancing exercise, moving mediation, and outdoor fun, slacklining is fast becoming a favorite warm-weather activity for many. If you are unfamiliar with slacklining, it’s similar to the concert of tightrope walking except that it involves stringing a nylon rope between two trees at a much lower height. Originally created by mountain climbers looking to strengthen their leg muscles and improve their balance, slacklining is also popular with yoga enthusiasts, cross trainers, and anyone looking for something different to do in their free time. Many local parks are allowing slacklining with specific regulations to protect the property and not cause any disruptions to bystanders. Be sure to check with your local officials to make sure slacklining is allowed in your favorite PA park.

Outdoor Elliptical Biking

Are you a fan of hitting the bike trails in local parks but want more of a challenge? Then you may want to take your bike game to the next level with an outdoor elliptical bike. Pairing the style of a traditional bike with the exercise elements of an elliptical machine, these stand-up outdoor bikes are perfect for adding an aerobic workout component to your bike trail expeditions! Full disclosure – you’ll probably turn heads in your local because not everyone has seen an outdoor elliptical bike in action!

Geocaching

If you’re looking for a less vigorous, more tech-savvy outdoor activity this spring, geocaching may be more your speed. A new spin on a classic scavenger hunt, geocaching is an outdoor game that involves the use of a GPS-enabled device like a smartphone to navigate a specific set of coordinates to successfully discover a hidden container (geocache) that holds a prize. Although primarily played in cities, geocaching has caught on in local parks due to the many unique hiding places they offer. Grab your phone and get ready for a modern-day treasure hunt!

These are just a few of the many uncommon springtime activities that you can enjoy in your favorite PA parks. Be sure to read all park guidelines before you perform any of these activities, just to be sure that they do not violate any park rules and regulations. Springtime will be over before you know it, so don’t delay – get outside and enjoy your warm-weather activities today!

The importance of Conserving Our Parks

It’s likely that if you’ve ever visited a local or state park, you’ve been aware that there is a common “pack in, pack out” rule. That means, anything, including waste, that you bring into a park, you must also remove from the park when you leave. Smaller community parks often offer trash bins and recycling containers for your waste. Conserving the natural habitat through personal responsibility in and outside parks is crucial. You can practice park conservation from your home, as well as while you’re visiting the pristine landscape of a national, state, or local park. Here are some ways you can help to do your part in conserving our parks.

Leave No Trace

When you visit a park, make sure you take anything you’ve brought with you when you leave. Trash and litter left behind can harm wildlife and the natural environment of the parks, so picking up after yourself is critical to conservation. Additionally, if you see debris and trash during your next visit, do your part and pick it up.

Donate or Fundraise

Fundraising and donations can help sustain and promote the conservation of parks all across the country. Donations fund projects and sustainability initiatives at local, state, and national levels. Funding can help facilitate programs in the community, rehab or add playgrounds to parks, and simply help to maintain the grounds.

Reduce Your Footprint

The idea of “saving the environment” can be overwhelming. People often think they need to do all or nothing in their commitment to helping the environment, but then get frustrated by the challenge. However, simple, small changes can also make a big difference in your environmental footprint. Some easy changes that help our parks are:

  • Invest in some reusable items like bottles, bags, and utensils.
  • Use fewer straws or invest in a reusable straw that you can carry with you.
  • Use the air dryer in a restroom instead of paper towels.
  • Compost and recycle.
  • Switch to bar toiletries like soap and shampoo instead of options that come in plastic containers.

Conserving our parks goes beyond simply visiting and promoting these essential natural environments. You can do your part in and outside the parks all year round!

The Most Common Animals at PA Parks

Pennsylvania is home to a diverse landscape with a variety of wildlife nestled into it. The state’s beautiful parks offer perfect places to experience the assorted wildlife that reside here. From 435 bird species to weasels and otters to even elk, the Keystone State is brimming with creatures for you to discover nearly right outside your door – or wherever your closest local park is. Let’s take a look at some of the wildlife a sharp eye is apt to find at PA parks.

River Otters

Though elusive, these water-loving creatures are a staple in Pennsylvania’s waterways. In fact, they exist in every major river system in the state. Otters sometimes live near cities, but typically prefer the wilder terrain of Pennsylvania, so you may need to head to a park that’s farther away depending on where you live. These playful pups (and adults) love to slide down muddy banks or ice and have fun with sticks, stones, food, and more. However, you may have trouble finding them in the wild but if you do, you’ll never forget it! If you can’t spot one in the wild, you might see one riding around on a license plate as Pennsylvania made the river otter a star of some of its custom options starting in 1999.

Elk

Did you know that Pennsylvania is home to Elk Country? That’s right! In almost the very middle of the state, you’ll find Elk Country in Benezette, PA. During the 1800s, this native species was entirely wiped out but in 1913 the Pennsylvania Game Commission imported elk from the West to reintroduce them to the state. Today roughly 1,200 elk roam across 10 PA counties. In Benezette, you can enjoy exploring the Elk Country Visitor Center where you can learn about the history of the animals and maybe even spot one in the wild!

Birds

Of the 435 species of birds in Pennsylvania, you’re most likely to see a Northern Cardinal or American Robin at your local parks or even in your backyard! These common birds love to visit just outside your window or your birdfeeder for a delicious bite. You also have a high chance of seeing an American Crow, Blue Jay, or Mourning Dove near your home or at your favorite park as these are common birds in the state. Break out the binoculars to try and find other less-populous gems like the Gray Catbird or White-Throated Sparrow.

There are many more kinds of wildlife to enjoy in and around the lush parks of Pennsylvania. No matter the season, you’re sure to discover something special at your local park!

How People Can Enjoy Parks & Rec Facilities When It’s Cold

Enjoying Your Local Park in the Winter

Even when there’s snow on the ground and the temperature is low, there’s lots to enjoy at your local park. People tend to get outside less during the winter months, which can negatively affect our mental health and well-being. Humans need time outdoors to recharge and get the recommended dose of Vitamin D even when the mercury dips. Your local park offers a range of activities no matter the weather or season. Here are some ways you can enjoy outdoor activities during the winter at your local park.

Sledding

While this one does require a decent amount of snow on the ground, what better way to enjoy the outdoors in winter than with some good ol’ fashioned sledding! Grab your sled and head to the closest park with hills to participate in one of the hallmarks of the winter season in Pennsylvania. Even a smallish hill will do when it comes to sledding!

Snowshoeing

If there’s enough snow on the ground, take the family out for a weekend adventure at one of the state’s many parks that feature snowshoeing trails. Typically you’d need your own gear for this beloved winter activity, but there are some private companies that rent snowshoes either near Pennsylvania’s parks or for use on their own land. As an example, Woodloch Resort in the Poconos offers snowshoe rentals.

Walking, Jogging or Running

As long as the ground is on the dryer side, you can still walk, jog, or run during the winter months. Make sure you’re outfitted properly for the weather and hit the paths or trails for some refreshing and heart-rate-increasing winter fun! You’ll be able to enjoy the fresh air and stay on track with your fitness goals even when it’s cold outside at your local parks.

Enjoy the Quiet

Oftentimes parks are less busy during the winter months which makes it a perfect time for you to take advantage of the peace. Simply listening to the sounds of winter and taking in the serene scenery while you’re all bundled up sipping a warm beverage can be a perfect winter activity at your local park. Find the next sunny day and head out to claim your spot on a park bench to breathe in the crisp winter air and appreciate your community greenspace like you don’t usually see it. Even being in the sun during cold days can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which many people in the Northeast suffer from.

Supporting your local parks and recreation facilities year-round is beneficial to you and your community. For more information on how you can support your local parks to ensure they’re maintained, explore our website.

4 Essential Services Offered by Your Local Park

Local parks go well beyond just being places to enjoy nature. While this is an important service that they provide, local parks offer other essential services that many may not realize which is why they’re so crucial to our communities.

Mental Health Support

This year has shown everyone how important parks and maintained outdoor spaces are when it comes to mental health. Being stuck at home took a toll on the collective mental health of our country, but parks provided a safe outlet for people to connect with nature and get active. Being urged to stay away from others and indoor spaces left people with the wonderful opportunity to get outside. All year, people have opted to simply take walks around their neighborhoods or head to local parks to learn, explore, and get active. Without these resources, we would’ve seen an even deeper dive in the collective mental health of our country. Even during normal times, people can use parks to connect with nature and themselves and reduce stress.

Education

Studies have shown that children learn better when they have access to parks. Whether it’s a local community park or a national park, kids have better focus, attention, and knowledge retention when they’re allowed to get outside. Research has also shown that when kids have access to untamed nature, they discover more. Community parks with simple walking trails through forested areas where they can explore and discover can benefit a child’s development.

Tourism

Tourism is an essential part of many communities. Even the smallest dots on the map have something to offer out-of-towners. Parks can contribute to tourism dollars through sports, festivals, and other gatherings that draw out-of-town visitors. By having usable, maintained, public outdoor spaces, communities can benefit from increased revenue through tourism. It’s likely that visitors will spend money at other area businesses when they’re in town to visit a park – for whatever the reason might be.

Recreation

Perhaps one of the most immediately recognizable essential services that parks provide is a space for outdoor recreation. Local parks offer a safe, maintained space for community members of all ages to get outside and get active. Whether going for a simple stroll or engaging in sport, area parks are crucial in recreation. Many parks offer playgrounds, sports fields, walking trails, and more so that everyone can enjoy time outside.

Both community members and parks and recreation professionals can help to foster relationships with local leaders to promote and maintain local parks as they truly do offer essential services. To find out more about how you can get involved with your local parks, check out our resources and if you are a park maintenance professional looking for tips and tricks to strengthen your park maintenance routines, check out the Pennsylvania Park Maintenance Institute.