As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, widespread access to safe, structured outdoor physical activity continues to be more important than ever.
One way the Moving Together Outside campaign is helping to make this happen is by pushing for the expanded issuance of shared-use agreements (SUAs) across the nation.
But another crucial in-road to reaching this goal is through building equitable access to quality parks and recreation facilities across the nation.
Read on to learn how the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a nonprofit collaborator in the Moving Together Outside campaign, is making this vision a reality for millions in the U.S.
The importance of parks and recreation in our pandemic world
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted what has been true for many years: parks and recreation is vital to ensuring that all people thrive.
For many people, parks continue to be the only safe, outdoor spaces they can go to be active or simply take a mindful moment to rejuvenate.
It became very clear during the pandemic how local parks and recreation spaces are essential community services. Parks and recreation professionals swiftly pivoted into new roles to protect, support, and heal their communities by:
- Scaling up childcare programs and learning centers
- Offering facilities to shelter people without housing
- Managing food distribution programs
- Keeping outdoor parks open safely and in accordance with all national, state, and local public health guidance
- Providing essential pandemic-related health and social services, including COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution support
Yet, nearly thirty percent of the U.S. population—100 million people—do not have access to safe, quality outdoor recreation spaces and programs that are within a 10-minute walk of their home. This is a major imbalance that NRPA works hard to rectify.
“The mission of NRPA is to ensure everyone in the U.S. has easy access to quality parks and recreation,” said Elvis Cordova, NRPA Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. “We are committed to ensuring that those benefits are extended to all people, of all races, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Supporting parks and recreation during the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, NRPA has helped support the above-and-beyond efforts of the U.S. parks and recreation sector in a number of key ways, including:
- Creating online toolkits, including COVID-19 and Parks and Recreation: Making the Case for the Future, to help concisely communicate the essential role of parks and recreation in creating healthy, resilient communities.
- Winning increased funding for parks and recreation agencies through tireless advocating for the Great American Outdoors Act, the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- Working with NRPA coalition partners to gain support for outdoor recreation priorities in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The final version of the legislation included billions of dollars in federal funding provisions that can significantly help park and recreation agencies around the country.
- Continued support through robust grants and fundraising resources; public policy efforts; impactful community partnerships; and myriad strategic and operational guides for parks and recreation professionals’ success, comprised of the latest research, reports, data, and surveys.
Helping vulnerable community members more easily implement an active lifestyle
NRPA’s mission is highly focused on creating opportunities for safe outdoor exercise, recreation, and related community services to populations in communities experiencing economic hardship.
“The social determinants of health—or the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play have the largest impact on a person’s ability to implement a healthy, active lifestyle,” said Kellie May, NRPA Vice President of Programs and Partnerships.
First and foremost, all people need to be met where they are, right now, with the tools they need to feel confident about implementing an active and healthy lifestyle.
Kellie explained there are many specific barriers to this for under-resourced communities, which NRPA supports park and recreation professionals to address and resolve in their communities:
- Ensuring their basic needs are met, such as food, shelter, and employment
- Offering culturally relevant and welcoming opportunities for physical activity
- Easy, affordable public transportation options to nearby parks and other green spaces, including more walkable access
- Maintaining parks and recreation facilities to promote use and ensure safety Public support for greater investment in shared, urban public spaces so that all communities can realize the full potential and benefits of these places
- Increased recognition that the parks and recreation sector can provide solutions to some of the most pressing societal challenges that vulnerable communities face
The Moving Together Outside campaign helps address these significant barriers by advocating for SUAs and similar permits that meet people where they are—particularly those in underserved communities.
“When establishing SUAs, we believe it's important to involve community residents, especially those most vulnerable,” Elvis said. “These are the folks who have historically lacked a seat at the table to give input on how the SUA will help improve equity, economic development, and health benefits. Moving Together Outside understands that.”
NRPA believes that Moving Together Outside also aligns well with the public’s reimagining, and new appreciation of, parks and recreation that the COVID-19 pandemic initiated.
“Traditionally, people have perceived parks as simply nice to have community amenities,” Kellie said. “But the public now clearly understands that local parks and recreation centers are the adaptable infrastructure that provides essential spaces, programs, and built environment features that are necessary to maintain the physical activity, health, and well-being of the public.”
To learn more about how ACE’s Moving Together Outside campaign supports a safe, inclusive fitness journey for people in all communities across the U.S., visit our website.