Public Perceptions of Local Parks and Recreation as an Essential Community Service During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sammie Powers, Nicholas A.D. Pitas, Andrew J. Mowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant economic challenges to state and local governments, resulting in funding cuts for many government services, including parks and recreation (Young, 2020). As park and recreation agencies work to sustain and increase funding during and beyond the pandemic, it is important to understand the perceptions of key decision-making stakeholders and document the contributions of parks and recreation during the pandemic. Local residents are a primary stakeholder for municipal parks and recreation who have the potential to influence funding and policy through their participation, voting, and advocacy. Research has suggested that individuals are more likely to support parks and recreation and view them as essential when they perceive they provide benefits that address their own as well as broader community needs. Parks and recreation have previously been identified as valuable contributors to health, and as such, these services may have provided essential benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This panel study investigated Pennsylvania residents and the extent they considered parks and recreation an essential community service during the COVID-19 pandemic. It further assessed the rationale for why parks and recreation were considered either essential or non-essential during this time period. A majority of respondents (54%) felt local parks and recreation were an essential service in their community during the pandemic. People who recently used parks and people with higher incomes and levels of education perceived parks and recreation to be more essential during COVID-19. When asked why they considered parks and recreation to be essential, respondents discussed contributions to physical health, mental health and well-being, the safe provision of recreation opportunities, and social and community connectedness. Conversely, parks and recreation were considered non-essential when they had been closed, when individuals were unsure of what services were actually provided during the pandemic, or they were perceived as unsafe or unsanitary given the presence of COVID-19. Findings provide evidence of the contributions provided by local parks and recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic and suggest influenceable factors associated with perceptions of wheth-er parks and recreation are an essential community service.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-178
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 9 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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