American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

ACE Advocacy and Outreach


Public park and recreation agencies and exercise professionals share a common passion—that of creating healthy individuals and communities.

The idea of exercise professionals working for or with park and recreation departments is not exactly new. Traditional types of employment for fitness professionals in parks and recreation include:

  • Group fitness instructors
  • Personal trainers in fitness facilities owned by recreation and parks departments
  • Shared use of parks (permitting to run classes on public lands)

While these employment opportunities have served some exercise professionals quite well, there is room to grow your business by working creatively with recreation and parks departments. Here are three ideas to get you started: 

1. Target Specific Populations 

Design and pitch programs to your local recreation and parks department that are tailored to special populations. Some examples include seniors, new moms, cancer survivors and youth. This is an excellent way for a department to expand its fitness programming, particularly as it evolves to focus on healthy lifestyles for all. You may want to consider becoming a specialist to better serve unique populations and carve out a niche for yourself. Becoming known as the go-to expert in your community in areas like senior fitness or weight management can help you gain credibility and attract new types of clients.

2. Facilitate Walking Programs

This makes a lot of sense, for a variety of reasons. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans meet the minimum guidelines for moderate physical activity, and walking is a natural solution. It is easily accessible and does not require any special equipment (other than a comfortable pair of shoes). Offer to collaborate with your local department on walking programs such as a “walk of the month” featuring a different park each time. The free ACE Walking Toolkit is a great resource if you are considering this direction.

3. Participate in Special Events

A good way to get to know people in the department is to offer your services at a special event or two. Offer to lead a warm-up before a local 10K or provide fitness tips at a health fair. Another idea is to check into the possibility of getting involved with the department’s social media efforts—perhaps providing an “exercise of the week” or fitness tips.

These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Once you start working in this area, you’ll probably find that the opportunities to collaborate with recreation and parks departments are boundless.

How to Get Started

1. Do your research

Identify the department’s current offerings and determine what its gaps might be. Be a bit of a sleuth when it comes to discovering policies and procedures. Take a look at the staffing structure and try to identify the person(s) responsible for fitness programming.

2. Understand the organizational structure

Park and recreation departments are operated by different types of public entities such as municipalities, counties or special taxing districts. They may be governed by an elected policymaking board, under the jurisdiction of city managers or county executives (or equivalent position) and may also have an advisory board. They range from just a few employees to several thousand depending on the size of the department. Most, if not all, offer some fitness programming, running the gamut from owning and operating sophisticated fitness centers to offering branded exercise classes in a classroom type setting.

3. Decide what you’d like to do

Think about what is in it for the department, as this will help you in your pitch. Does your idea fit within its current structure or is it totally new? One important tip is to not duplicate current offerings. Once you have really thought through your plan, outline it in writing. This will go a long way when you present your idea to the department and can serve as an effective leave-behind piece. Then it is time to make the appointment, pitch your idea and hopefully start on your journey of building your business through working with your local park and recreation department.

If you are interested in learning more on this topic, please consider viewing the recorded webinar: Working with Community Park and Recreation Departments to Grow Your Business