2019 State of Parks & Recreation Management Report

Tile for the 2019 State of Parks and Recreation Report showing a lake at a park with a lightning striking trees along the backgroundPrompted by a growing nationwide focus on advancing parks, recreation, and environmental efforts, Earth Networks conducted their second annual Parks and Recreation Management survey. We’re excited to share this report with you here on this webpage.

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About This Report

We fielded this survey during the spring months of 2019. It focuses on industry threats, challenges, and sustainability, and how this year’s results compare to last year’s. Our goals for this survey were to answer the following questions:

  • Are the focus areas for parks and recreation professionals the same or different compared to last year?
  • What types of challenges are professionals focused on solving, and are they similar to last year?
  • What are the best ways for parks and recreation managers to enhance professional skills?
  • Are there new areas of investment or are the top investments from last year continuing to trend in 2019?
  • What are the most important severe weather threats to prepare for



Nearly 200 parks and recreation management professionals responded to our survey. While a vast majority of respondents came from local recreation departments, there was a wide variety of facilities represented. Some other organization types included amusement parks, emergency management, and sports complexes. Both large and small operations took part: from one-man teams to organizations with over 150 employees!

Which of the following best describes your organization? - Local city/county/municipal parks and rec departments 76.3% - Other 14.7% - Recreation complex 4.3% - Amusement park 2.2% - Federal/state parks and rec departments 1.6%


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Top Initiative & Challenges

Top focus areas target safety

Two out of the top three initiatives for respondents in 2019 are emergency management-related: emergency preparedness (70.4%) and severe weather safety planning (62.4%). Health and wellness (80.7%) is the number one initiative, which also falls under the umbrella of safety.

Please select all the following initiatives you plan to take part in or are already taking part in for 2019: - Heath and wellness 82.2% - Emergency preparedness 72.2% - Severe weather safety planning 60.7% - Environmental Conservation 53% - Land conservation 40.6% - Wildlife conservation 32.9% - Flood prevention 28.8% - Other 5%

Being ready to protect employees and visitors from a wide variety of threats is a trend amongst parks and recreation managers as they ranked these matters of high importance last year as well.

Top Challenges

A myriad of issues challenge parks and recreation management

Most parks and recreation entities want to prioritize the initiatives on the previous page, but those goals come with their own set of challenges. This year respondents ranked funding, staffing issues, sustainability, severe weather events, and vandalism as their top five industry issues.

Please rank the following challenges from your personal highest level of concern (1) to lowest level of concern (8) at your specific facility: - #1 Funding - #2 Staffing Issues - #3 Sustainability - #4 Severe weather events - #5 Vandalism

The answers to this question are especially enlightening when we consider two things. The first is that severe weather is one of the top concerns when it comes to issues of sustainability and climate change. The other thing we must consider is that while funding, staffing issues, and sustainability are all important, severe weather ranked above all other physical threats like vandalism and violence.

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Safety Threats

Woman running on pavement at a parkSevere weather is a serious opponent

Since health and wellness programs are the most popular initiative for respondents, it’s clear that a common goal across most parks and recreation departments is helping community members stay healthy, fit, and active.

Health and wellness activities can be a risky business at parks, with a whole team of threats waiting for your guests. In fact, sports-related injuries are still the most common way visitors get hurt at facilities. While impact injuries play an obvious role, serious weather-related illnesses like dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke do too. After uneven walking surfaces, severe weather related injuries rounds out the top three challenges parks and recreation professionals face.

Top Safety Threats for Parks and Recreation: Sports-related injuries, Uneven walking surfaces, and Severe weather-related injuries

Severe Weather

Competition heating up for top weather threat

It’s no surprise that respondents ranked lightning as the top weather-related threat. Especially since a majority of lightning fatalities occur during outdoor leisure activities.

Lightning 65.6%, Heat 63%, High Winds 59.7%

It’s also no surprise that extreme heat gave lightning a run for their money, landing in the number two spot. As heat-related injuries continue to make headlines, we’ve noticed lots of recreation professionals calling for weather stations that monitor wet bulb globe temperature.

Wet bulb globe temperature is the most comprehensive measure for heat stress on the human body. Our hyperlocal weather stations now include wet bulb globe temperature, which help support the industry trend of investing in real-time weather data and alerts to keep visitors safe from severe weather.

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Severe Weather Safety 

Planning for future weather events is the norm

On a scale of 0 (not prepared) to 10 (very prepared) respondents felt adequately prepared with an average response of 7.

On a scale of 0 (not prepared) to 10 (very prepared): 3.7% felt 0-2 prepared, 4.6% felt 3-4 prepared, 20.2% felt 5-6 prepared, 47.7 felt 7-8 prepared, and 23.8% felt 9-10 prepared

While most professionals feel adequately prepared for today’s weather threats, they understand that severe weather incidents are increasing. According to NOAA, 2018 saw 14 separate billion-dollar disaster events. This is the fourth highest number only behind 2017, 2011, and 2016. Your peers are paying attention to severe weather events and climate trends. That’s why over 55% plan on increasing severe weather safety this year.

Will planning for inclement weather and severe weather events be an increasing part of your safety plan in 2019? - Yes 55.4% - Not Sure 32.3% - No 12.4%

Severe Weather Tools

Encouraging tools and trends

The two most trusted severe weather tools respondents use at their facilities are mobile alerts and storm tracking visualization. These tools, especially when used together, are great for detecting storms before they become dangerous and keeping dispersed team members and visitors safe.

Why types of severe weather tools do you use at your facilities? Mobile alerts 68.3% - Storm tracking visualization 43.6% - Severe weather alerting horn/strobe system 34.4% - Support from meteorologists 33.9% - Lightning detection syste, 30.7% - Paid weather app or service 16.7%, Weather API 11.3%, Other 9.1%

But what happens when you need expert advice? Or don’t have anyone assigned to watch your storm tracking tool? That’s why meteorological support and lightning horns and strobes are so important. Respondents are noticing this, as we observed an increase in those trusting meteorologists (19.4% in 2018 to 38.9% in 2019) and installing weather horns and strobes (36.0% in 2018 to 44.0% in 2019).

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Moving Forward

Investment areas remain largely the same, except for one major switch

This year, renovations beat out last year’s number one future investment: new recreational programs. This was the only shift in the top three. With renovations and updates, severe weather can create a dangerous situation for those working at your facility. Having adequate severe weather tools is key in keeping not only visitors safe, but employees and third-party contractors. Make sure you factor severe weather and heat into your plans and procedures for all construction projects.

71.5% Renovations/updates, 60.2% New recreational programs, 40.3% attendance at industry or conference events

Most Popular Professional Development Activities

How are your peers planning on growing this year?

As professional development continues to be a large investment area for professionals in the parks and recreation sphere, we wanted to dig into which events are the most popular. We found that continuity education, industry events (a top investment area identified in the previous question), and CPRP & CPRE programs continue to be the most popular.

55.4% Continuity education 27.4% industry events 14% CPRP & CPRE programs

Advice From Industry Peers

When asking parks and recreation professionals what their single biggest priority for 2019 is, respondents often cited safety, staffing, and technology.

“Safety is paramount in our industry. Each park must focus heavily on the safety and security of their guests and employees. The most important thing to focus on is safety of patrons. All parks have their differences and therefore have different safety issues. Each park should look at their own situation and create a specific plan for themselves and then continue to keep that plan up to date.”

“To attract new employees we need to get the word out of how important our jobs are and promote the benefits of what we do and how we matter. We need training on generational gaps and we should help the soon-to-retire-staff pass on their knowledge and secrets of the trade. I think working with the younger demographics of employees that seem to be of different mindsets will be one of the most challenging things.”

“We need to stay current with trends and implementation of technology to improve services, constantly raise the standard for our services, facilities, programs and development of staff, and be best prepared to deal with issues stemming from what we can’t control. Trying to alleviate problems that we can control and having the best tools at our disposal to keep people safe from problems that we can’t control, like severe weather events, is paramount.”

“We must continue stressing the importance and role that Parks and Recreation play in our local, state and national governments. The focus needs to rise on Parks and Recreation because the many benefits overlap with many other areas of importance such as public safety, health and wellness, and economic development.”


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Storm clouds closing in on a nice park wit ha lake, walking path, and bench As parks and recreation facilities continue aligning their programs to better fit their communities, they cannot overlook the importance of overall safety and preparedness. Most respondents know this, as they reported increasing safety planning and professional development.

The best way to serve your community is to prepare for anything and everything that can happen at your facility. You don’t just need a plan. You also need the right team and tools to implement your plan.

If you’re ready to create a severe weather safety plan or improve your current one, we can help. Get in touch with Earth Networks today to see how our solutions can work for you!


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Do you want to learn more about implementing a weather safety plan at your park or recreation complex? Check out our Parks and Recreation Buying guide now!

Get the weather monitoring and alerting technology buying guide for parks and recreation facilities