Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 local and state parks, and the people who manage them and run all the park activities are being honored this week.
Park and Recreation Professionals Day is this Friday, and it takes thousands of them to help build strong, vibrant communities.
Tonya Brown, director of parks and recreation for Mechanicsburg and president of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, said 86% of adults in a national survey think access to the outdoors and nature is helpful, especially during stressful times, and it’s important to recognize the workers who make it accessible.
“Not just directors and full-time staff, but the part-time staff that are working in playgrounds with our community children, or lifeguards, individuals that are running leagues, everybody,” Brown outlined. “Because it takes really a village to raise a child correctly, through parks and recreation.”
She noted parks and rec centers also serve in many towns as emergency shelters, for COVID testing and vaccination sites, and as summer food program sites for low-income families.
Park use during the pandemic jumped more than 26% in the Commonwealth.
Heather Dighe, executive director of the Lancaster Recreation Commission, said it is further proof ready-to-use parks are vital to people’s health.
“A recent study by the National Recreation and Parks Association said that 93% of adults say that parks improve their mental health,” Dighe pointed out. “Having free, accessible, safe, clean parks means that people can benefit their physical health but also their mental health as well, which is so important.”
Brian Barrett, director of parks and recreation for Haverford Township near Philadelphia, said his department has recreational programs for adults and even a preschool program to safely introduce the area’s youngest residents to the outdoors.
“What the Parks and Rec added to a community is community,” Barrett asserted. “It gives people a chance to gather and use sports settings. It gives people a chance to just go to their local playground, play on the swings, run in the field, and walk their dogs.”
Increased use of many park facilities and the tendency for their budgets to be cut when times are lean, means there is a backlog of repairs and maintenance, which the workers also deal with on the job.