What does the future hold for outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania?
How can outdoor recreation help address health issues and reduce health care burdens on society?
What new and emerging recreation trends and technologies will require serious consideration?
How can we ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to outdoor recreation opportunities?
Is a rapidly changing climate going to change how and where we recreate?
These and many other questions are being asked by a team of recreation leaders (led by DCNR) as they develop Pennsylvania’s next Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan -- a federally required document that outlines strategies for outdoor recreation over five years.
Teamwork is the Key to Success
One of the early steps in creating a state recreation plan is assembling a team of community, state, nonprofit, and citizen leaders who have expertise in outdoor recreation issues.
The Technical Advisory Committee for the 2020 outdoor recreation plan formed late last year; and has held three meetings to discuss current recreation needs and funding issues.
The team is helping to examine challenges and opportunities, and make recommendations for action around five theme areas for the plan:
- Health and wellness
- Recreation for all
- Sustainable systems
- Funding and economic development
Lauren Imgrund, DCNR’s Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services, says the committee is critical to the plan’s development. “This committee’s diverse representation -- from community recreation leaders to state agencies to affinity groups -- allows us gain a comprehensive look at the recreation needs of Pennsylvanians.”
“Each person brings a unique perspective to the table, and we all work collaboratively to come up with a plan that addresses current and future issues and trends.”
Public Participation Vital to Creating Plan
A critical component of the plan is research to determine trends, interests, demographics, and attitudes.
Each five-year plan cycle includes an analysis of data from across the state and nation.
DCNR contracted with the Penn State Center for Survey Research in 2018 to conduct polls, surveys, and focus groups; and compare data to previous years to determine shifts in behavior and attitudes.
The data from polls in the fall and spring show that some things remain constant -- what people like to do and where they like to go.
Walking remains the top recreation activity, and half of Pennsylvanians choose a local park as their top place to recreate.
Outdoor enthusiasts, who were surveyed separately through social media channels, list hiking as their favorite activity, and kayaking as the top activity they don’t do now but would like to try.
More than nine out of 10 Pennsylvanians participated in at least some outdoor recreation activity in the past year. More than half of Pennsylvanians participated in outdoor recreation at least once or twice per month.
Yet surveys and data show that many people don’t have safe and easy access to outdoor recreation, with 48 percent of survey respondents indicating that they can’t safely walk to a public park.
However, 69 percent of Pennsylvanians agree they can safely access a trail within 15 minutes of where they live.
What Do Outdoor Recreation Providers Have to Say?
In addition to collecting residents’ opinions of recreation, the Technical Advisory Committee and writers of the plan are also gaining insight from the providers of outdoor recreation services.
More than 1,000 municipal park and recreation departments, multi-municipal recreation organizations, and county park and recreation agencies responded to a survey designed to gauge staffing and budgetary needs, management issues, and challenges facing the providers.
The majority of providers of recreation services say their top funding priority is maintaining existing park and recreation areas, followed by building walking paths and bicycle lanes, and building more greenways/trails.
Citizens agree that the top funding priority should be to maintain existing park and recreation areas; but they also thought Pennsylvania should be investing in protecting wildlife and fish habitat and restoring damaged rivers and streams.
The majority (56 percent) of Pennsylvanians agree that the commonwealth should increase its permanent source of funding for park and recreation opportunities; and that local municipalities should have a permanent source of funding for park and recreation paid for by local tax revenues.
What Happens Next?
Pennsylvania’s last two outdoor recreation plans were recognized as the best in the nation by the National Park Service and the National Association for Recreation Resource Planners.
The current 2014-2019 plan, which is still being implemented, outlines 20 recommendations and 83 action steps to help policy-makers and communities deal with issues focused in five key theme areas:
- Health and Wellness
- Local Parks and Recreation
- Tourism and Economic Development
- Resource Management and Stewardship
- Funding and Financial Stability
Draft recommendations about the new plan will be available for review and comment in October to allow citizens, providers, and interested stakeholders to give their input before a final document is presented to the National Park Service early next year.
More information about the 2020 plan’s research and progress is available at the DCNR website.