Americans’ Use and Perceptions of Local Park and Recreation Services: Results from an Updated Study

Andrew J. Mowen, Austin Barrett, Nicholas Pitas, Alan R. Graefe, B. Derrick Taff, Geoffrey Godbey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public park and recreation services have long provided low-cost, close-to-home services to citizens from all walks of life. Social equity, or the availability of these services to all members of the community, is a pillar of the park and recreation profession (NRPA, n.d.). To this end, differences in recreation participation and perceptions across various demographic groups have been a subject of considerable research. In 1992, Godbey, Graefe, and James conducted a national survey of Americans’ use and perceptions of these services. However, given the social, economic, and technological changes that have occurred since then, a follow-up analysis is warranted. This paper provides an updated analysis and examines potential differences in park and recreation behaviors (e.g., park visitation, program participation) and the perceived value of these services across various sociodemographic characteristics. Approximately 70% of respondents from the 2015 sample (n = 1,144) reported using local parks or playgrounds, while 32% reported participating in organized programming. Approximately 83% of respondents reported personal benefits from park and recreation services, while 92% reported community benefits. Education and income emerged as significant across all analyses: more educated, wealthier respondents used parks and participated in programs more frequently, and reported greater personal and community benefits. Non-white respondents reported lower levels of personal and community benefits. Older respondents reported less frequent visitation, and lower levels of personal and community benefits derived from parks and recreation. Rural respondents reported less frequent visitation and lower levels of personal and community benefit. Not surprisingly, frequent visitors/participants reported greater levels of personal and community benefit than did less frequent visitors. However, a majority of park nonusers also reported a degree of personal and community benefit, despite their lack of engagement with these services. Because local park and recreation services typically receive some amount of financing through public tax dollars, they should cater to a diverse range of stakeholder groups, including non-users as well as those with less ability to pay for services. As the country has become increasingly diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, it is important to remain relevant and demonstrate value to all members of a community. Results from the present analysis indicate that while a majority of Americans use and value local park and recreation services, there are areas of concern to consider. Usage and participation were greater among, and benefits were more readily identified by individuals from privileged racial/ethnic and sociodemographic groups. Addressing these lingering inequities should be a primary concern for park and recreation advocates, researchers, and members of the public; without broad based support and relevance, the quality and availability of public park and recreation services may suffer moving forward.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-148
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Local parks and recreation
  • national study
  • participation
  • visitation


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