New trends in Parks and Recreation? Consider this. Eight hours a day kids are plugged in. We are the first generation to outlive our kids due to obesity. Online learning instead of classroom instruction. Staycations not vacations. Precycling not recycling. Sustainable energy and green roofs. If you have not heard about these trends, you probably soon will. In 2009, many new opportunities will come to the progressive parks and recreation professional.

As parks and recreation professionals, we focus on the world in which we work. If we look outside the box, what we do is influenced by a continuous change in demographics, marketing, real estate, education, economics, and facility design. These factors directly impact one another and create patterns of change. As the economic climate becomes more challenging, agencies should not be fearful of budget cuts. Change represents opportunity for those who are prepared to take advantage of it. Understanding influences that lead to future trends opens the doors of opportunity. Below are examples of what we will see more of in the future.

Online Learning

As behavioral influences change around us, education also changes. More students are learning online. The P&R professional should be aware of opportunities that exist as a result.

As of September 2006, 38 states have state-led online learning programs, with an estimated growth rate of 25 percent annually. Judy Bauernschmidt, Director of Secondary Education, with Colorado Virtual Academy suggests that we have just begun to see a rise in this trend. “We will soon see hybrid programs, which will allow students enrolled online to connect with others of similar values and needs through a physical location.” In 2006, the Sloan consortium reported 700,000 enrollments in K-12 online learning.

Shaping this trend are the number of kids that are not successful in traditional brick and mortar schools, including specialized athletes, actors and actresses, accelerated and gifted students, kids affected by illness, and rural students that may require more challenging academic curricula. These influences will strengthen in future years.

Children today are plugged in up to eight hours a day. By providing additional enrichment programs, and gym or classroom space, students can benefit through socialization and fitness/wellness activities. Parks and recreation agencies have an opportunity to form collaborations by providing recreation centers and parks during daytime hours to generate revenue through rental fees or usage agreements with educational entities.


With the plummeting economy comes a new buzzword, “staycation.” Due to high gas prices, food prices, and lodging costs, more Americans are spending their two week vacations right at home, looking to their own communities for fun and interesting experiences.

Although the buzz word in travel is “staycations,” Destination Manager, Tara Kuglan, with Boston-based Smart Destinations, shares information regarding tourism on a budget. Tourism groups are looking for collaborations with parks and recreation departments as there is a need for multi-purpose rooms to host evening events due to expensive hotel prices. Tara identified an opportunity to collaborate, allowing tourists to focus on health and fitness needs while traveling. Parks and recreation entities can promote their facilities and programs through tour passes or a card such as a “Go Card,” which offers travel passes that pay admission fees up front to area destinations. These collaborations can generate revenue from groups or individuals visiting local communities.

In 2008, staycations resulted in a 4-6 percent rise in use of campgrounds. Staycationers seem to participate in low or no cost activities such as camping, hiking, biking, and running, as well as other activities. Festivals are emerging as a component of community-based tourism development, adding vitality and enhancing the appeal of a destination. Community festivals offer diverse cultural and recreational experiences to residents and visitors while providing strong positive economic impacts. In recent years we have seen a rise in community and cultural-based festivals.

Preventative Health Care

Obesity is not a new trend in the United States. However, the social and economic influences that lead to obesity may provide new opportunities for parks and recreation professionals to focus on recreation as a form of preventative health care. Family budgets are tight. Buying healthy food, as well as paying for fuel to drive around town to participate in activities, can be expensive. Consequently, sports and recreation programs are often cut from budgets. Municipalities are looking to share programs or services with health systems, social services, corporate entities, and community service agencies.

Municipal parks and recreation structures are changing and new methods of delivering services are emerging. Certain services are contracted out, and cooperative agreements with non-profit groups and other public institutions are being developed. The relationship with health systems is vital in promoting wellness. Traditional relationships with education facilities are evolving into cooperative planning and programming aimed at addressing youth inactivity levels and community needs for all ages.

As subsidy for programs is lessening and more “enterprise” activities are developed, staying current on legislation is critical for funding. The No Child Left Inside Coalition, a result of the No Child Left Inside Act, is becoming a popular partner for departments. It is a fact that children are plugged in to computers and televisions longer after school than in the past. Whether it is because both parents work, safety, or new choices, these have implications for childhood obesity. Recent legislation authorizes new funding for states to provide high-quality, environmental instruction. Fran P. Mainella, Honorary Doctorate, and Visiting Scholar at Clemson University and Former Director of the National Park Service, highlights in the April 16, 2007 issue of Newsweek Magazine, “There’s a direct link between a lack of exposure to nature and higher rates of attention-deficit disorder, obesity, and depression.” In essence, parks and recreation agencies can and are becoming the “preferred provider” for offering this preventative healthcare. With current legislation and documented research on health benefits, P&R professionals have new opportunities to collaborate and receive funding to support preventative healthcare programs and services.


The concept of sustainability dramatically influences parks and recreation systems. Recreation centers and park maintenance services require considerable quantities of energy and water resources. In future years many recreation centers will focus budgets on retro fitting, rennovation, and new buildings that include sustainable design. Parks systems are going to computerized irrigation systems that control water loss and usage based on weather and evaporation rates.

In small communities, the push is often towards efficiency and cost savings, while for larger cities it is not leaving a carbon foot print behind. In most cases both reasons for sustainable design are justified when seeking funding. In the May 2007 issue of Recreation Management, Springwood Youth Center in Kent, Washington was recognized as an Editor’s Choice for innovation in architecture and sustainable design. The facility promotes sustainable design and environmental education, introducing youth to the importance of a “green” mission.

Conferences and workshops that educate parks and recreation professionals on these new sustainability trends are available through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Society of Landscape Architects, (ASLA) and some private firms.


Creating connection means enticing people into the community to take advantage of recreation and leisure opportunities available not just by car, but via trails, walkways and bike paths. In the community-planning world, this is often referred to as “connectivity” and attention to this dynamic is increasingly important for parks and recreation agencies. Walking and biking are emerging as some of the most popular fitness trends. Trail systems offer communities a way to recreate and commute to work without having to start up the car. One example of such strategies is a bike library where agencies provide bikes for “check out.”

Awareness of changing social, economic, and climate conditions will help professionals understand and respond to community needs and trends. The opportunities highlighted in this article are just a sampling of what may lie ahead for you and your community. Whether you are an administrator, programmer, planner, or parks professional, this information should inspire action for funding, planning, and your ongoing operations.

For more information, contact: Stacy Turner, Project Consultant, GreenPlay, LLC,