Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Safe Routes to Parks: Lessons Learned from the First Year of Implementation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Safe Routes to Parks: Lessons Learned from the First Year of Implementation

Article excerpt

The Safe Routes to Park Action Framework ( was released in fall of 2016 to support the Surgeon General's Call to Action on Walking and Walkability. This coordinated effort between NRPA and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (National Partnership), with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was designed to provide local governments with critical evidence- and practice-based recommendations to ensure parks are safe, accessible and welcoming places in communities. We know that people with easy access to a park, within a 10-minute walk of home, have higher rates of walking, lower rates of obesity and improved mental health and enjoy many other benefits. This framework helps communities achieve those benefits by providing steps to engage leaders and community members in an ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process.

Over the past year, NRPA and the National Partnership have worked with the following eight communities to pilot this framework:

* Ashley Park, New Bedford Parks, Recreation and Beaches, New Bedford, Massachusetts

* August Wilson Park, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

* Dewey Point, Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department, West Terre Haute, Indiana

* East Athens Community Center and Trail Creek Park, Athens Clarke County, Athens, Georgia

* Hugh Force County Park, Morris County Park Commission, Wharton, New Jersey

* Monte Sano Park, Recreation Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge (BREC), Baton Rouge, Louisiana

* Wesleyan MetroPark and the Wolf Creek Trail, Five Rivers Metro Parks, Dayton, Ohio

* West Willow Park, Ypsilanti Township Recreation, Ypsilanti, Michigan

These communities have built partner coalitions, engaged communities, conducted walk audits, collected surveys, selected action goals and priorities, secured funding and, ultimately, made improvements to community parks. Following are some of the themes that emerged across the sites and recommendations from others interested in using the Safe Routes to Park Action Framework.

Partners as Technical Experts and Community Advocates

Engagement is the central component of Safe Routes to Parks and was the starting point for all the pilot sites. Each site had various levels of relationships with community partners, but all noted that the Safe Routes to Parks process provided a tangible project on which to collaborate and build relationships. As Five Rivers Metro Parks notes, this process "has solidified working relationships between the main involved organizations to better work together for the benefit of the region as a whole."

Each partner brought a unique perspective to the project, but the pilot sites all agreed with Five Rivers, which states that "the key to this plan working well was to include a wide range of partners and having the technical expertise available on the team. Trying to take on a project like this without professional design help and those involved with youth and transit would have made this project a lot more difficult."

Other technical experts who contributed to the projects included organizations with a history of working on Safe Routes to Schools: police departments, bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations and departments of transportation. The community-engagement partners included housing and community development, public libraries, senior centers, public schools, social service agencies and after-school groups.

Partners lifting up the voices of the community to ensure representation in the process was another type of partnership. Ypsilanti Township Recreation adds: "We built a stronger relationship with our neighborhood association. And with this connection, we were better able to bring awareness to the park and build relationships to identify needs at the park."

Regardless of the role of the partners, a key aspect of their engagement was ensuring that everyone understood why safe routes to parks was important for communities. …

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