OP-ED: Open Pennsylvania parks for early recovery
Even as April showers bring May flowers, the flattening trend in the pandemic curve is precipitating welcome springtime conversations about reopening Pennsylvania for business.
The governor's process, developed by the state Department of Health and the state Emergency Management Agency, outlines a Red-Yellow-Green phase matrix to determine when counties or regions are ready to begin easing restrictions on work, gatherings, and social interactions. The science of this process is sound and sensible.
To help build a sustainable early recovery, Pennsylvania parks and outdoor recreation opportunities should open as soon as possible because of additional data-driven considerations.
(The caveats: Openings are dependent upon the imposition of proper cleaning, monitoring, distancing, capacities and public health safeguards, as well as the proper staffing and funding to enable them. Indoor recreation activities are not included in this early opening phase recommendation.)
1. Health: Parks rejuvenate us.
The healthful role of recreation and parks is indisputable. It's not just fun and games, a frivolity to be cut when times are hard, but an indispensable service. Both history and science agree: According to abundant research, time spent in green outdoor spaces fosters a wide range of mental, physical and social health benefits. During this pandemic, 83 percent of adults exercising in local parks found it essential to maintaining their mental and physical health. Open parks mean healthier lives.
2. Mobility: Parks are the go-to places.
Google has compiled a series of COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to help officials understand responses to social distancing rules. Pennsylvania's data over the past several weeks shows an overall 19 percent increase in mobility trends for parks, beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas and public gardens. Some individual counties, like Berks, Bucks, Cumberland, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery, Northampton and others have shown up to an 83 percent spike in people using their parks. Parks will continue to be preferred places during recovery.
3. Employment: Parks offer ready jobs to a willing workforce.
As the data demonstrates, our parks and greenspaces have been heavily used lately. But without serious attention very soon, the resultant impacts will compromise visitor safety. We must deploy a ready workforce of managers, programmers, attendants, lifeguards, maintenance workers, and other personnel to assure our parks remain clean, safe, and ready to use. Pennsylvania's more than 6,000 local parks create and sustain 14,840 jobs, and many municipalities hire large cadres of seasonal workers to assist in outdoor tasks. These jobs are waiting to contribute to our economic recovery.
4. Child care: Parks provide critical services for children and youth.
The governor's Yellow Phase allows for child care operations to open with worker and facility safety protocols in place. As more people return to their regular places of employment, but schools remain closed, our children and youth (and their parents) need more options for supervised activities. Parks and outdoor recreation providers have the programs, spaces, facilities, and trained staff to be the crucial supporting link that enables a wider workforce to resume. Local parks and recreation are ready-made for the enrichment and care of our children and youth.
5. Economy: Outdoor recreation stimulates the local economy.
A 2013 economic analysis by the Trust for Public Land on the return on investment through the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund found that every $1 invested in land conservation returned $7 in natural goods and services to our economy. And a new report released by the National Recreation and Park Association affirms that Pennsylvania's 330 local park and recreation agencies generate $2.85 billion in economic activity for the state. Opening our parks jumpstarts our economy.
6. Resilience: Parks foster personal and community recovery.
Places where recreation, parks, and trails are vital to their residents are flourishing places to live, and are more likely to continually revitalize their physical, cultural and historic assets. Many local park and recreation agencies have also been part of the first response network across the state, and participate in food distribution programs to assure our most vulnerable populations have proper nutrition and healthy food options. An open and robust recreation and park system strengthens us all.
Pennsylvania parks and outdoor recreation have never mattered more. To help build an early, widespread, and sustainable recovery, we need to open their essential services and infrastructure for our own public good as soon as possible.
— Tim Herd is a Certified Recreation and Park Executive, and the CEO of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, the statewide professional association for those who work and volunteer in the industry.