Pennsylvania's new five-year Outdoor Recreation Plan shows a need to change the way policy-makers and communities approach outdoor recreation in light of a changing population that is increasingly more urban, and whose children have been spending less time outdoors.
"Part of Governor Rendell's vision to create healthy and livable communities includes successfully serving the recreation needs of those who live, work and play in them," Department of Conservation and Natural Resources acting Secretary John Quigley said while releasing the plan. "The results of four in-depth surveys to support this plan show that families are spending less time outdoors; children are more obese than ever before; and residents are calling for access to close-to-home recreation, walkable and bikable communities, protected lands and waters, and well-maintained park facilities.
"Based on this information, the plan outlines 28 programmatic and five funding recommendations as action steps," Quigley said. "Tough economic times will mean we will look for increased opportunities for partnership, strategic investments and coordinated programming. The health and well-being of our children, our communities and our outdoor recreation resources depend on us acting on these recommendations."
Some of the specific recommendations in the plan include:
- Funding projects in pilot communities meant to strengthen the health and outdoor recreation connection;
- Promoting safe walking routes to school;
- Encouraging planning that integrates outdoor and green infrastructure;
- Creating park, playground and schoolyard designs that exemplify green practices and encourage more outdoor play during the school day;
- Developing events that blend youth-oriented and technology driven activities with traditional sports like hunting and fishing;
- Working to provide information about local trails through Web sites and sojourns;
- Being strategic with funding to close gaps in trail systems and connect users to trails; and
- Providing more recreation opportunities for underserved urban and rural communities.
The plan identifies walking for pleasure or fitness as the most popular outdoor recreation activity in Pennsylvania. Other popular activities include sightseeing and driving for pleasure, nature watching, swimming, picnicking and bicycling.
A majority of survey respondents said the main benefit they received from being outdoors is their mental and physical health.
Studies show greater access to outdoor recreation facilities, particularly close-to-home walking and biking opportunities, can combat obesity--a serious health threat to adults and children. Survey respondents listed bike lanes, dog parks, rental cabins and wildlife viewing areas as the facilities they would most like to see increased.
The public had many opportunities to contribute to the creation of the plan. Three stakeholder meetings were held. Focus groups, and telephone and direct mail surveys were also conducted.
The completed plan keeps Pennsylvania eligible for federal Land and Water Conservation funding.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources