Parks, Trails, and Health Workbook – A Tool for Planners, Parks and Recreation Professionals, and Health Practitioners

Workbook Cover - Title

The Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service and the Healthy Community Design Initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got together and produced a Parks, Trails and Health Workbook.  It is widely recognized that parks are critical to the health of communities and the people that live in them.  This workbook is designed to help park planners integrate these public health concepts into their designs.

Specifically, the workbook should help:

  • Facilitate interagency and stakeholder discussion and collaboration related to parks, trails, and community health issues.
  • Find data and information to engage and enlist new health partners, funding resources, and stakeholders.
  • Assess the health and community needs for a new park/trail project or enhancement
  • Prepare for a health impact assessment or for health grant applications.

The workbook has five sections and supporting appendices:

Section 1: Community Health Profile

Running GroupThe premise here is that once one develops a community health profile using health statistics and demographic data, one will have a pretty good idea of the types of people that will be using the park or trail.  That, in turn, leads to identifying funders in the health arena and development of facilities that best meet user needs.

This also includes the identification of demographic trends that can be useful in developing a facility that can handle future needs.

Finally, the data developed in this step will allow monitoring and evaluation that will reveal the ultimate effects of creating the facility.

Section 2: Site Assessment

ParkSitePlanTypically the location of the park will be known up front.  The site assessment gets at the existing features of the area including its assets and potential issues.  It doesn’t stop at the park boundary because surrounding features may impact the park and vice versa.

A community workshop can be used to gather information from local residents.  This assessment should include things like geographic conditions, vegetative conditions and human interactions with the area. For example, who is using the trails that already exist, which trees are important to preserve, and how often does the area flood.

All of this information is used to create a park that meshes nicely with it’s environment and that best serves its users.

Section 3: Site Planning

Park Benches - A Place to RestFor health, the idea is to use the park to encourage physical activity.  Depending upon the people that are expected to use it, this might include playground equipment, nature trails, baseball fields, running tracks and more.  At the same time the immediate health of users is an issue.  Plans need to include things like drinking water, shade, and resting places.

Beyond the physical attributes designed into a park, consideration should also be given to strategies that further contribute to health.  For example, exercise classes, a farmers market, geocaching opportunities, art in the park,  and so on.  These strategies also depend upon the park being designed to accommodate them.

Section 4: Park and Trail System Planning

Park SquirrelA single park or trail is not independent.  They fit within a community and that community may have other parks and trails and other amenities.  This section looks at these broader relationships.  For example:

  • how are parks or trails connected into a functioning system?
  • how will people get to the park and will roads, bike paths, trails and bus routes facilitate getting to the park?
  • what kind of wildlife habitat can be provided while being compatible with surrounding land uses?
  • how can local businesses in the vicinity best serve park users?

Answers to these and other questions may not only lead to modifications in the park design, but also changes in surrounding systems and land uses so that the entire community functions better.

Section 5: Monitoring and Evaluation

EvaluationSections 1 and 2 are aimed at collecting data and information about the existing conditions in the area.  Once the facility is operational things will change.  Monitoring tracks those changes as compared to the initial situation while evaluation analyzes those changes to identify which things are working and which aren’t.  The knowledge gained in this exercise can lead to modifications to better meet the goals for the facility.

Using the Workbook

Workbook CoverThe workbook is quite open-ended with ideas, questions and topics for group discussion.  The appendices then provide methodologies and help that can be used to:

  • find needed data,
  • organize key issues,
  • identify opportunities and their associations with user groups, seasons and even time of day,
  • create a health impact assessment

There are also case studies to demonstrate how the concepts presented in the workbook have played out in communities across the country.

All in all,  the workbook offers a great template for community planning with heavy public involvement as it relates to parks and community recreation developments.

The workbook is freely available and you can download it here and find more information on related topics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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