Professorsí Research Informs State Recreation Plan

August 27, 2009

At a recent discussion group focused on the state of Pennsylvania’s state parks, one urban youth voiced his concerns about the safety of city parks:

“Walking around is something I like to do…but now you’re stuck going to only certain places around here….I miss walking.…You can’t do what you used to, when you could walk forever.”

The discussion group was part of a larger research project to assess how Pennsylvanians feel about state-managed parks. Called upon by The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, faculty in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and other departments at Penn State coordinated a number of surveys, discussion groups, and analyses that informed a federally mandated plan to increase and improve outdoor recreation opportunities across the state: the 2009-2013 Pennsylvania Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

“In our research, we tried to be as inclusive as possible,” said Dr. Alan Graefe, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism management, the principal investigator of the SCORP research. “We asked people from all over the state what they liked or didn’t like about Pennsylvania’s parks and recreation opportunities, and we incorporated their responses into our recommendations.”

Graefe and his colleagues—Dr. Andrew Mowen, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism management, Dr. Harry Zinn, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism management, Dr. Albert Luloff, professor of agricultural economics and rural sociology, and Dr. James Finley, professor of forest resources—hosted discussion groups with urban youth and baby boomers  from both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where they learned that safety and transportation were two major concerns for those demographics. They surveyed people who visited parks in regions across the state, finding out what made people want to return to state parks (clean bathrooms and opportunities for educational programming, among other things). A statewide survey of Pennsylvanians (including those who do not visit state parks) assessed the recreation needs, activities, and preferences of the overall population. Finally, the researchers found gaps in the state’s trail system, which includes hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling trails.

“Recreation is one of the key ways people can fight obesity and stay healthy, and it can also benefit the economy of communities” said Graefe. “It’s important that we try to cultivate ways to increase recreation opportunities in a way that fits the needs of Pennsylvanians.”

The goals of the 2009-2013 plan are to increase cooperation among state organizations (such as the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources and the state departments of education, agriculture, and aging), connect people with the outdoors, fill gaps in the state’s trail system, and increase awareness of recreation as it relates to health and the economy. The plan lays out action steps with timelines to pursue those goals. Some actions include developing grant programs that promote recreational development; creating community-based social networks to increase participation in outdoor learning programs; funding campaigns to increase education of recreation’s impact on health, well-being, and the economy; improving transportation to parks; and developing more biking and hiking opportunities in close proximity to neighborhoods.

The entire plan is available at www.paoutdoorrecplan.com.

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Editors: Alan Graefe can be reached at gyu@psu.edu or 814-863-8986. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.