Can you imagine not having the ability to take in fresh air and sunshine in the past four months of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Even though Pennsylvanians were under a stay at home order for some of that time period, we were allowed to go outdoors for exercise and our mental health -- and there has never been a greater appreciation for parks and outdoor recreation opportunities.
While some were visiting parks and trails in lieu of their closed gyms, others were seeking the restorative mental health benefits that nature can provide.
Pennsylvania parks and trails became the remedy for those who needed to get out of their home, to find some calm, and to combat quarantine weight gain.
The appreciation of and visitation to our outdoor spaces didn’t end when stay at home orders were lifted. They are continuing as people are looking for safe activities and places to enjoy as the pandemic continues.
Interest in Parks and Recreation Spike
Unprecedented usage of parks and trails have been noted during the past few months.
Pennsylvania state parks experienced a high number of visitors at the start of the pandemic response, and that trend has continued.
When comparing visitors to 2019, Pennsylvania state parks saw a:
- 29 percent increase in visitors compared to March 2019
- 13.3 percent increase in visitors over April 2019
- 36 percent increase in visitors over May 2019
According to a Pennsylvania Environmental Council report on The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Pennsylvania’s Non-Motorized Trails (PDF), Pennsylvania trails experienced a 52 percent in visitors during March compared to 2019, and a 97 percent increase compared to 2018.
A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy survey also confirms that people are turning to the outdoors at this time. According to its survey:
- Nearly half of people (46 percent) indicated that having access to open spaces has reduced their stress levels during the pandemic.
- More than half (52 percent) are exercising outdoors in their immediate neighborhoods and local trails.
- Across the country, trail count data shows surging trail use, with numbers of people out on trails spiking to levels more than 200 percent higher than last year at the same time.
In addition, people are putting money where their interest is. Sales of outdoor recreation equipment increased during March and April over last year, showing:
- 85 percent increase in the purchase of kayaks
- 121 percent increase in the purchase of bikes
- 30 percent increase in the purchase of camping gear
- 15 percent increase in the purchase of birding supplies
With all of this interest in outdoor recreation, Pennsylvania’s abundance of parks and recreation opportunities should be celebrated!
Pennsylvania’s Abundant Outdoor Recreation Opportunities
July is National Parks and Recreation Month, and across the commonwealth, we have a lot to be thankful for.
There are more than 6,100 local parks which comprise 195,867 acres of the commonwealth. Of those local parks:
- 319 have swimming pools
- There are 2,370 playgrounds
- 2,087 have athletic fields
DCNR recognizes the importance of local parks and recreation and awards around $24 million annually to support access to the outdoors.
We also have 121 state parks that comprise 295,000 acres of land to recreate, including more than 1,500 miles of trails.
In addition, the commonwealth’s 2.2 million-acre state forest system comprises 13 percent of the forested area across the state to recreate.
There’s more than 12,000 miles of trails in Pennsylvania. Of those trails, 2,355 miles are water trails.
With so many opportunities, it’s no wonder more Pennsylvanians are turning to outdoor recreation!
Celebrating Parks and Recreation
Photo by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
There’s no better time to have a deep appreciation for the parks and recreation opportunities in the state. It’s evident that we need these places, not just for fun but to maintain a healthy life.
As visitors and interest in outdoor recreation increases, so does a common shared responsibility to keep our parks and recreation opportunities accessible.
An increase in visitors comes with it an increase litter, wear and tear, and sometimes vandalism.
One way to show appreciation of our parks and recreation opportunities is to leave no trace.
This means disposing of waste properly, including picking up after your dogs.
It means not disturbing rocks, plants, other natural objects, and wildlife.
It also means being considerate of others using these public places.
We can help celebrate Parks and Recreation Month by practicing these principles, picking up after ourselves and others, and wearing a mask when we can’t social distance from others while recreating.
Special Thanks to Parks and Recreation Professionals
Behind all of these parks and recreation opportunities are dedicated staff who work hard to provide access to safe outdoor recreation for all Pennsylvanians.
Friday, July 17 is Parks and Recreation Professionals Day. Consider giving a shout out to those who are behind your favorite park or trail on your social media channels with #ParkAndRecDay.
Help us show appreciation for our parks, recreation opportunities, and the people behind it all. We are parks and recreation!