Benefits of Parks and Recreation

Creating Community through People, Parks and Programs

Parks and Recreation (P&R) agencies provide many benefits for their communities. This webpage will focus on the following nine community benefits and demonstrate how these are accomplished in Columbia, Missouri, along with related national research data.

P&R Community Benefits

  1. Strengthens community image and sense of place
  2. Supports economic development
  3. Strengthens safety and security
  4. Promotes health and wellness
  5. Fosters human development
  6. Increases cultural unity
  7. Protects environmental resources
  8. Facilitates community problem solving
  9. Provides recreational experiences

1. Strengthens community image and sense of place

Columbia’s parks provide a place for citizens to gather for citywide festivals, as well as public and private events. The park picnic shelters are reserved about 1,600 times a year and citizens request special use of the parks for about 175 public and private events annually. Parks are used to host weddings, company picnics, family reunions, non-profit fund raisers, and wide range of other special events. Columbia Parks and Recreation hosts a variety of citywide events that bring our community together.

Fire in the Sky

It was evident in the citizen-input process used to develop the “Columbia Imagined – The Plan for How We Live & Grow” plan that Parks and Recreation plays a vital role in the quality of life in Columbia. The report states,

“The top reasons residents cited for living in Columbia focused on the quality of life. Many of the favorite places and activities were mentioned, including parks, trails, green space, downtown assets, and cultural opportunities…. Park was the word most used to describe a favorite place to go, and trail was the third-most-used word.”

Columbia Imagined word chart

Click on image for enlargement and page 97 of Columbia Imagined report

What prominent community features come to mind when locals contemplate their city? In their “Happy Thanksgiving” e-newsletter, the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau made this comment,

“This year, we’re thankful for awesome visitors; our beautiful parks and trails; CoMo’s many galleries, bars, museums, shops; and of course, our delicious restaurants…”

In 2016 a new flag was adopted as the official flag for the City of Columbia. Parks, trails, and nature areas were included in the design as representative of Columbia. Notice the wording of the resolution passed by the City Council on May 2, 2016.

“The City Council hereby identifies the following elements as components to the City’s official flag design:

  • The City of Columbia logo surrounded by a white border is prominent in the center of the flag design to signify Columbia s the crossroad of Missouri; and
  • Blue squares represent the many distinctive rivers, creek and lakes surrounding Columbia; and
  • Green squares represent Columbia’s extensive woodlands, trails, parks, and nature areas.

City of Columbia Flag

The City of Columbia’s Vision Statement is:

“Columbia is the best place for everyone to live, work, learn and play.”

Columbia Parks and Recreation is a major contributor toward that vision.

  • Best place to… LIVE – Our beautiful parks, connecting trail system, programs and citywide events enhance the quality of life for Columbia residents.
  • Best place to…WORK – Columbia Parks and Recreation provides employment for up to 800 people. Many teenagers’ first jobs are with Parks and Recreation as a lifeguard, cashier, or through the C.A.R.E. Program.
  • Best place to...LEARN – Columbia Parks and Recreation offers about 235 different classes to help citizens learn something new, explore their artistic talents, or improve their abilities in a variety of activities.
  • Best place to…PLAY – Columbia Parks and Recreation is the community provider for playgrounds, pools, golf courses, recreation centers, a variety of sport leagues and facilities, and a host of programs and family fun events.

It is evident that Parks and Recreation plays an important role in our community image and sense of place.

See related national and other research data


2. Supports economic development

Park sport complexes draw tourism dollars for the community, as they generate overnight stays, as well as patronage for restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, etc. Columbia hosts soccer, baseball, softball, football, disc golf, lacrosse, archery, ultimate Frisbee, rugby, and tennis tournaments at Parks and Recreation facilities. Park festivals and special events also draw visitors from around the region that patronize Columbia businesses.

Ultimate Frisbee

Columbia is the host city for the Show-Me-State Games, which draws about 30,000 participants, 82,000 visitors, and generates an estimated $15 million in revenue to Columbia. Columbia Parks and Recreation provides the majority of the sport fields and recreation facilities needed to host the Show Me State Games.

See related article:

Show-Me State Games sells out hotels, brings business to restaurants
Columbia Daily Tribune, July 21, 2015
Show Me State Games
IBM chose Columbia over other competing cities as the location for their new Delivery Center, citing “quality of life” as one of the important factors in their decision. The following excerpt from a letter from IBM exemplifies the role Parks and Recreation can have in attracting businesses and industry to Columbia.

“When IBM was considering Columbia as a location for our newest Delivery Center, the city’s quality of life was an important factor in our ability to attract and retain employees. The existing and planned walking and bicycling trails impressed us as a key element of that quality of life.”

There are many more ways Parks and Recreation help their communities economically – see link below.

See related national and other research data


3. Strengthens Safety and Security

Parks and Recreation can help increase safety and security in a community. Consider the following examples of how Columbia Parks and Recreation helps our community in this regard.

  1. Provides supervised recreation activities at parks and recreation facilities, creating a safe place for children to go when school is not in session.
  2. Conducts swim lessons, which can prevent drowning.Swim Lessons
  3. Provides lifeguards at municipal pools, who perform dozens of rescues each year.
  4. Performs about 190 park playground safety inspections annually to keep playground equipment in good repair and safe for Columbia youth.
  5. Conducts bicycle safety and maintenance classes.
  6. Distributes free bicycle lights.
  7. Park rangers patrol parks and trails to increase safety and free up police officers to respond to other calls.

Park Ranger Program

8. Provides recreation programs that target at-risk youth, to help reduce instances of juvenile delinquency.
9. Performs post-storm trail inspections and maintenance to remove obstacles, such as fallen trees and storm debris.

See related national and other research data


4. Promotes health and wellness

According to the Surgeon General, “Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most important things that people of all ages can do to improve their health.” National obesity statistics are sobering, with more than two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children considered overweight or obese.
Group Exercise at the ARCParks and Recreation provides fitness and nutrition classes, sports programs, and recreation activities to get people moving and improving their health and fitness. It also provides facilities for citizens to be active on their own, such parks, trails, outdoor fitness stations, pools, and recreation centers.
Fitness Stations at MKT Stadium Access Research shows that exposure to nature can reduce stress and promote relaxation. People who live closer to parks report better mental health. Columbia Parks and Recreation has preserved over 3,300 acres of green space for our citizens’ enjoyment.
Over 3,300 Acres Preserved

See related national and other research data


5. Fosters Human Development

Columbia Parks and Recreation offers about 235 different classes to help citizens learn something new, explore their artistic talents, or improve their abilities in a variety of activities. Columbia Parks and Recreation offers learning activities from “cradle to grave.”

Our Special Olympics program helps local athletes with intellectual disabilities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Special OlympicsOur C.A.R.E.(Career Awareness Related Experience) Gallery is a summer employment program that gives creative at-risk youth the opportunity to work as artists and learn from professionals in their field.

CARE GalleryThe above examples are just a small portion of what Columbia Parks and Recreation has to offer to help citizens continue developing their knowledge and skills. The department’s mission includes providing opportunities for development for all segments of the population, regardless of age, ability, or socio-economic level.

See related national and other research data


6. Increases cultural unity

Columbia Parks and Recreation hosts a variety of events/programs designed to increase cultural unity. Some examples include City Kwanzaa; One Sky, One World; Martin Luther King Candlelight Walk; foreign language classes; and Family Fun Fest (FFF) – Around the World. Parks and Recreation citywide festivals and events bring Columbia’s culturally diverse community together for celebration and family fun.

FFF - Around the World


7. Protects environmental resources

Columbia Parks and Recreation has preserved over 3,300 acres of land for parks and nature areas. Preservation of green space plays a vital role in protecting the environment. Green space improves air and water quality and provides habitat for wildlife. Mature park trees filter out pollutants before they reach local streams. The Park Sales Tax is the City of Columbia’s only dedicated funding source to protect and preserve green space.

Columbia Parks and Recreation has constructed wetlands and rain gardens to help filter storm water before it reaches local creeks. Rain garden educational signs have been installed at various park locations to encourage citizens to develop rain gardens on their properties.

Rain Garden at Flat Branch ParkThe department plants hundreds of new trees each year, conducts an annual Arbor Day Celebration with one of the local schools, and gives out about 1,000 tree seedlings to the public in celebration of Arbor Day.
Arbor Day Celebration at Local School
The department provides outreach programs to educate citizens in tree care, aquatic shoreline care, and management of invasive species. Examples of this would be through the Tree Keepers Volunteer Program, Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project (CARP) Volunteer Program, and the “Stop the Spread” of invasive callery pear hybrids educational campaign.

See related national and/or other research data


8. Facilitates Community Problem Solving

Can a Parks and Recreation Department help solve community problems? Absolutely. Consider just a few examples of how Columbia Parks and Recreation has helped out locally:

  1. Low Income Citizens – Columbia Parks and Recreation provides financial assistance for low-income citizens to access recreation facilities and programs. The department also conducts a “Holiday Toys for Columbia Youth” donation drive to provide presents the children for low-income families and is a co-sponsor for “Lunch in the Parks,” which feeds on average a hundred children each program day in the summer.
  2. Holiday Toys for Columbia YouthDowntown Skateboarding – When skate boarders posed a problem for downtown merchants, the City Council directed Parks and Recreation to develop a place for the skateboarders to practice their sport. Hence, Columbia P&R identified funding for the project, worked with skateboarders to design a skate park, and constructed the Columbia Skate Park with in-house staff. This alleviated the skateboarding problem for downtown businesses and for police who were charged with enforcing the ordinance prohibiting skateboarding in the Central Business District.
  3. Storm Water Mitigation – Hinkson Creek was declared an impaired stream in 1998, at which time the EPA recommended a 40% reduction in stormwater runoff. Columbia Parks and Recreation partnered with sixteen agencies to develop the 3M Flat Branch-Hinkson Creek Wetlands to help improve the creek’s water quality. The wetland cells can store and filter up to 10 million gallons of runoff, removing pollutants before reaching Hinkson Creek.

    3M Wetlands Storm Water Control

  4. Latch-Key Kids – Columbia P&R provides a safe, supervised, and free place at the Armory Sports and Recreation Center for children to go after school when no one is at home.
  5. Summer Youth Employment – After a stressful summer of youth violence and unrest in Columbia’s central city, a high level of youth unemployment, and the untimely reduction in Federal youth employment programs, the C.A.R.E. (Career Awareness Related Experience) Program was created. Columbia P&R provides summer employment, job mentoring, and life skills training for about 180 at-risk youth through the C.A.R.E. Program annually. 
    CARE Summer Employment
  6. At-Risk Youth – Columbia P&R provides recreation, activities, and programs targeted specifically for at-risk youth. Examples include Midnight Hoops, After School Homework Assistance, After School Recreation, Drop-In Basketball, Blue Thunder Track Club, C.A.R.E. (Career Awareness Related Experience) Program, and many more. Research shows that engaging teens in positive recreation activities reduces the instances of drug use, delinquency, and crime.
  7. Warming and Cooling Centers – Two P&R facilities, the ARC (Activity & Recreation Center) and the Armory Sports and Recreation Center, are designated warming and cooling centers for citizens in need. (Map of warming centers and shelter locations)
  8. Columbia College Seeks Help to Revive Baseball Program – Since Columbia College has no on-campus baseball field or practice facility, they looked to Columbia Parks and Recreation to provide them a suitable location to bring a baseball program back to the college. (See Columbia Missouri 11-18-15 article, “Columbia College’s first baseball signee the Wright fit.“)

    See related national and/or other research data


    9. Provides Recreational Experiences

    Columbia Parks and Recreation is committed to providing leisure opportunities for all Columbians, no matter their age, ability or income level. We have programs for the mentally and physically disabled, at-risk youths, preschoolers, teens, families, individuals, and seniors, along with financial aid for those who need it. With our pools, lakes, spraygrounds, golf courses, recreation centers, parks, nature areas and trails, our community enjoys a variety of recreation opportunities.

    Check out our Leisure Times program guide, Park Directory, Trail Directory, and Special Events web pages to get an idea of the many recreation opportunities available in Columbia.
    Flat Branch SpraygroundsSee related national and/or other research data


Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Majority of Columbia Citizens Use Our Parks!Did You Know? Over 90,000 people attend Parks & Rec special events!
Did You Know? Majority of Columbia citizens use the trails!
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? TV's "Biggest Loser" Danny Cahill said,
Did You Know? Parks increase property value!
Did You Know? Columbia Parks & Rec maintains over 500 trees in Columbia's downtown area.
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Swim lessons can save a life!
Did You Know? Columbia Parks and Recreation conducts about 190 park playground safety inspections annually
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Columbia Parks and Recreation lifeguards perform dozens of rescues each year.
Did You Know? The CDC Promotes "Trails for Health!"
Did You Know? Exercise can increase your life span!
Did You Know? Nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese.
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Parks and Recreation offers about 235 different classes
Did You Know? Nearly 8 out of 10 teens who engage in after-school activities like sports or self-improvement classes are A or B students.
Did You Know? Swimming can help you live longer!
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Park playgrounds contribute to good health!
Did You Know? Green space protects the environment by improving air and water quality.
Did You Know? Rain gardens reduce stormwater runoff and prevent harmful pollutants from entering our streams.
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Park trees protect the environment!
Did You Know? About one third of all school age children in the United States go to an empty home after school.
Did You Know? The cost to incarcerate five youth in a Missouri juvenile facility could fund the entire Community Recreation Program that serves local at-risk youth and still have money left over!
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Parks & Rec helps at-risk youth obtain employment!
Did You Know? Trails get people moving!
Did You Know? Regular exercise combats chronic diseases.
Click on the “Did You Know?” images for enlargement.

Did You Know? Golfing can improve your health!
Did You Know? Exercise promotes better sleep according to the Mayo Clinic.
Did You Know? Physically active kids have more active brains.


Related National and Other Research Data

There are plenty of research papers and statistics to identity and validate the many benefits Parks and Recreation bring to a community. Type in any of the topics listed above into an Internet search engine, and you will find an abundance of information on the subject. Below are some of our favorite research papers, articles, and websites that Columbia Parks and Recreation has used to research the benefits of Parks and Recreation. Documentation for local examples are also included.

Resources that include multiple P&R benefits

1. Strengthens community image and sense of place

2. Supports economic development

3. Strengthens safety and security

4. Promotes health and wellness

5. Fosters human development

6. Increases cultural unity

7. Protects environmental resources

8. Facilitates community problem solving

9. Provide Recreational Experiences