NRPA Publishes First Benchmark of Parks and Recreation Agencies Since 1992

Did you ever wonder how your local parks and recreation program compares with those in other cities and states? As the voice of the U.S. parks and recreation community, the National Recreation & Park Association benchmarked 3,100 agencies around the country. While the results make for good reading, the NRPA more importantly expects its 2009 “Operating Ratio Report” to guide community leaders and legislators in their efforts to better understand the importance of parks and recreation in the health and well being of all Americans.

Some of the more interesting facts and statistics on U.S. parks and recreation programs derived from the NRPA survey include:

20 –  the median number of parks or sites maintained by parks and recreation agencies.

450 – the median number of acres of land maintained by parks and recreation agencies.

10 –  the median number of miles of greenways and trails managed by city and county parks and recreation agencies.

20 –  the percentage of agencies that passed a bond referendum in the last five years. The last three years have seen a decrease in “yes” votes.

128 – the median number of volunteers assisting  parks and recreation agencies. Volunteerism is crucial to the livelihood of the vast majority of parks and recreation programs.

40 –  the percentage of parks and recreation agencies assisted by foundations. A smaller percentage report having advocacy groups to support particular parks or entire park systems.

50 –  the percentage of parks and recreation programs receiving in-kind support

Almost all parks and recreation agencies offer instructional classes and festivals/community events. The next most popular are team sports, seniors, and summer camp programs. When evaluated by jurisdiction type, environmental education is more common for counties while fitness classes are more popular for municipal and special district agencies.

Playgrounds, picnic areas with shelters, and diamond/rectangular fields are the most popular recreation facilities. Less than 2 percent of agencies charge a fee to use playgrounds, while more than half of the agencies charge a user fee for the other areas.

Reports in this study and the accompanying dynamic online database offer baseline data on community demographics, land area, budget, personnel, programs, and facilities. They provide broad “yardsticks” against which an agency’s operations can be measured. A free Executive Summary of the “Operating Ratio Report” is available by visiting For more information or to purchase subscriptions to the full report, contact Meredith Bridgers at

About the author

Ryan Anderson