Eight Things To Find When Planning Parks and Trails to Improve Public Health
By Robby Layton, Ph.D
Park and trail systems planners, public health professionals, and community leaders are committed to improving public health. And they know better than anyone that fewer than half of Americans are getting the recommended amounts of physical activity.
If your city is like most, parks and trails can be the secret sauce for healthy living. Being outside in natural settings reduces stress, increases social interactions, and improves environmental sustainability. All that plus giving people a chance for some physical activity!
Public Health Goals Accomplished with Parks and Trails
Here are a few ways to accomplish your public health goals with parks and trails:
Create awareness of walkable access to park and trail entrances. Encourage people to be out of doors and active daily. The Step it Up! Partners Guide to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities is a great resource.
Apply for grants and technical assistance programs to support access to parks and trails close to where people live. State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans may be available in your state. The Colorado SCORP program is excellent:
Gather The Data You Need
8 Facts You Need to Know to Effectively Use Parks and Trails to Improve Public Health
What percent of your population lives within a half mile of a public park or trail? Measure this on a city or county level. Compile the data on state or national level.
What percent of your population lives less than a half-mile walk route to a public park or trail? Measure this on a city or county level.
What is the ratio of people in #2 to the number of people in #1? Measure this on a site-by-site basis.
What percent of land are is designated as a public park or trail in your community? Measure this on a city or county level. Compile this data on state or national level.
What percent of users are engaged in sedentary (chatting on benches or sunbathing), moderate (walking a dog), or vigorous (running) activities? Measure this for each specific site.
How many people visit you parks and trails each year? Measure this for each specific site.
What is the average number of visits to the parks and trails in your community? Pick a useful duration of time (maybe quarterly or annually) and measure this for each specific site.
What is the average time spent at the parks and trails in your community? Measure this by individual and for each specific site.
Items 1-3 above reveal how accessible the benefits of parks and trails are to your community.
Items 5-8 above reveal how effectively the benefits of parks and trails are being used by your community.
We can help
We've helped many planners and community leaders provide a healthier quality of life for their communities. If you need any assistance in improving aspects of public health in your town-physical, mental, social, economic, and environmental-contact us
This blog is based on research conducted in 2014 and 2015 by North Carolina State University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Department in collaboration with the National Park Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.