Improving Public Health through Public Parks and Trails

Eight Common Measures

Parks and trail corridors have been important for public health in the United States for more than 100 years.

by U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Parks and trail corridors have been important for public health in the United States for more than 100 years.


Improving Public Health With Parks And Trails


Synopsis

To improve the health and lives of all Americans, community leaders, decision makers, researchers, public health professionals, and park and recreation professionals have been working together to promote the public health benefits of parks and trails. Active Living Research, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has been a national leader in validating the positive public health benefits of parks and trails, and has been awarding research grants in this area since 2001. Reports based on those grants can be found on their website (www.activelivingresearch.org) and provide guidance that might be helpful in applying the measures in this summary. The focus of this summary is the further development and promotion of common measures typically associated with park and trail infrastructure and that provide ways to systematically evaluate and enhance their health benefits. The measures grew out of the NCSU/NPS/CDC collaborative research project mentioned at the beginning of this summary.


Common measures are needed for many reasons. The “Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report” states “What isn’t counted, doesn’t count” and that “In order to improve something, there must be a means to measure it” (Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010). The Benchmarking Report was created to give biking and pedestrian advocates a framework to plan, set goals, and track progress. It also helps coordinate efforts by diverse partners. Common measures are just as important for parks and trails. Without the data the measures generate it is impossible to learn what does and does not work well; set goals, plan strategies, and evaluate results; make data-based decisions; or make a strong case for needed changes in infrastructure and funding.


The purpose of this project is to suggest common measures for park and trail systems that are grounded in public health goals such as easier access to parks or trails and increased physical activity. Common measures can highlight the positive impact that park access and use have on community health which,
in turn, emphasizes the importance of local parks and trails to community decision makers and funders. At a local level, data from common measures can help agencies make strategic decisions about park and trail facilities that can increase the public health benefits of facilities. These data can be used
to identify trends and compare different approaches to park and trail design and management.


Most local park and recreation agencies lack resources, time, and internal analytical skills to conduct proper data analysis (NRPA 2016). To help address the potential lack of resources, park and recreation agencies could collaborate with public health professionals to collect and analyze park access and use data so that park planning, design, and management can better address community health outcomes and achieve shared goals.

Published August 03, 2017

About the Authors


The Department of the Interior (DOI) conserves and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people, provides scientific and other information about natural resources and natural hazards to address societal challenges and create opportunities for the American people, and honors the Nation’s trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities to help them prosper.


The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 and today manages over 390 units found in all 50 states and some of the U.S. territories. NPS supports and operates trails in three interlocking arenas: trails in parks, technical assistance to States and communities, and administration of much of the National Trails System.


It is the mission of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. We fulfill that mission by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the leading national public health institute of the United States. The CDC is a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

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