The following is a joint position statement by the Pennsylvania Recreation & Park Society and the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation, issued April 1:
In these times of mental, physical and economic distresses, our direct access to nature and its proven restorative properties is more important to us, and more worthy of safeguarding than ever.
During this pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that our mental health is a special concern. And with a large swath of the population increasingly stressed and isolated, more of us are heading out to the local, community and state parks and trails. Our bodies seem to know what research demonstrates: time spent in parks, forests, and the outdoors delivers a variety of mental, physical, and psychological benefits for our families. For our individual and collective good, we applaud decision makers in allowing continued access to public open space with the caveat that users practice the CDC guidelines for safe outdoor recreation, such as practicing social distancing, avoiding crowds, avoiding equipment, and washing hands.
Access to the outdoors will continue to be popular, as people reconnect with nature and as we recover from the financial strains created through the emergency measures needed to contain COVID-19. In times of economic hardships, our local and state parks and forests welcome people with close to home recreation and inexpensive family and friendly vacations.
It becomes us as a citizenry to systematically remove physical and cultural barriers to the healthful benefits of nearby and accessible parks, greenspaces, and recreational opportunities. These places in our landscape create safer and more welcoming neighborhoods, more resilient and vibrant communities, and as we have found, safe havens during times of turmoil.
During the economic recovery, we cannot forget the places where so many people seek refuge. Investing in our communities’ economic recovery includes the investment in those places. These natural and cultural assets are what people and businesses choose most for their surroundings. This “sense of place,” with its unique visual, cultural, social, and environmental characteristics, brings meaning to our communities — and increases our attachments to them.
The value our park and recreation systems contribute to our sense of place induces recurring investments in the local economy — from home-based niche businesses to cultural destinations to corporate headquarters — ultimately sustaining a thriving community. It is “what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about,” writes Edward McMahon in Urban Land Magazine.
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 the Pennsylvania economy. And that’s also good for business, as outdoor recreation in the state generates $21.5 billion in spending, $1.6 billion in tax revenue, 219,000 jobs, and $7.2 billion in wages and salaries.
Yet even as people seek relief and recovery outdoors, many of our precious parks are threatened by inadequate attention. A 2019 study by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation calculated our state parks and forests require an infusion of one billion dollars to arrest the long-neglected maintenance of vital infrastructure and facilities that serve and protect us when we visit them. And a similar need extends to more than 6000 local parks throughout the state. With heavy use during the time of COVID-19, paired with a decrease in staffing during this same period, the wear and tear will be real, and require investment.
The emerging principle in a post-pandemic world is that increased investment in our parks and greenspaces is a uniquely restorative route to a more prosperous personal, social, environmental, and economic health. Especially now, when we need it the most.