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Understanding the many different types of parks

This is an excerpt from Recreation Facility Management 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access by Brent A. Beggs,Richard F. Mull,Mick Renneisen & Michael A. Mulvaney.

Parks range in size, shape, function, and amenities. Most parks are owned and operated by some form of government system that is supported with tax dollars, fees and charges, donations, or all these sources. The most common public parks can be classified as neighborhood, urban, community or regional, linear, state, and national parks. Specialty parks can be public or private, depending on who owns them. They include theme parks, aquatic parks, and sport parks, and they are usually operated with the primary objective of generating revenue.

Neighborhood Parks
Neighborhood parks serve relatively small areas of a community; by definition, they are located in a neighborhood, often in a densely populated area. Generally, users or neighbors can access neighborhood parks by walking. These types of parks are generally 15 acres (6 ha) or smaller, and they offer amenities such as a playground, park benches, a picnic shelter, and an open area for multipurpose use.

Neighborhood parks are located in a specific neighborhood, which is often densely populated. Russell Monk/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images
Neighborhood parks are located in a specific neighborhood, which is often densely populated.
Russell Monk/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images

Urban Parks
Urban parks serve the most densely developed areas of a community. Urban parks tend to be fairly small, and they are usually bordered by a combination of residences and businesses. These types of parks often include hard surfaces such as concrete or pavement to accommodate the high traffic expected. Park benches, tables, and occasionally performance stages are common in urban parks. Depending on the location of the park, a playground may also be included.

Pop-Up Parks
A relatively new type of recreational space is the pop-up park. Pop-up parks can be permanent or temporary installations, are typically small in size (in the United States, referenced in square footage rather than acreage), relatively low in cost and maintenance, and provide cities with community-gathering spaces and opportunities to connect with nature (Collins, 2019). Most pop-up parks are located in urban areas and aim to provide more green space in these areas. Another trademark of these spaces is the ongoing amenity changes. For example, a 7,000-square-foot (650 m2) pop-up park may include artwork, seating, planter beds, and food trucks; 6 months later, it might have an outdoor piano and host bands.

Community or Regional Parks
A community park (also called regional park) is larger than a neighborhood or urban park. Typical size can range from 15 acres (6 ha) to several hundred acres. This type of park consists of a broader range of amenities that attract users from a greater geographic area. Users are more likely to have to drive to a community or regional park. For this reason, large parking facilities are common. Typical features include all of the amenities commonly found in neighborhood parks, in addition to sport fields; hiking, biking, and skating paths; aquatic facilities; formal gardens; water features; zoos; museums; and other recreation attractions.

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Parks Are Everywhere!

According to NRPA’s 2022 Agency Performance Review (2022a), the typical park and recreation agency offers one park for every 2,323 residents with over 10 acres (4 ha) of parkland for every 1,000 residents.

Linear Parks
The linear park is generally found along a stream, river, or wetland area or an abandoned railroad bed. By definition, linear parks are long or linear in nature, and they may connect to other similar parks. When two or more linear parks are connected, they are called greenways. Often, a trail system is incorporated in a linear park. In the United States, the Recreational Trails Program created a movement aimed to convert abandoned railroad corridors into trails for use as alternative transportation routes as well as for recreation. Funding from the federal government passed down to state and local governments assists in the development of these trail systems throughout the United States.

State Parks
A state park is usually larger than a community or regional park, but it may have similar amenities. State parks are owned and operated by a large government unit, and they serve those within the boundaries of the state and others who come to visit from outside the state. In the United States, state parks are operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a state department. In Canada, the system of parks similar to state parks are provincial parks. These types of parks are usually created to preserve natural areas such as water features, deserts, trees, and other unique attributes of the geographic area where the park is located.

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State Park Sites

There are more than 6,600 state park sites in the United States that span more than 14 million acres (5.6 million ha). California has the most state parks (270), followed by New York (215) and Washington (212). Kansas has the fewest state  parks, with the number being as low as 26  (National Park Trips, 2021).

National Parks
National parks share many similar characteristics with state parks. National parks are usually owned and operated by the national government, and they serve all those within that nation as well as other visitors from around the world. In Canada, these parks are administered by Parks Canada. In the United States, national parks are operated by the National Park Service (NPS), a division of the Department of the Interior. These types of parks are usually created to preserve natural areas that include unique features of the geographic area where the park is located. Users typically have to drive or fly a considerable distance to access a national park. Some well-known U.S. national parks include Glacier National Park in Montana, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Everglades National Park in Florida, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Specialty Parks
Some facilities include the word park in their name or description. Although not generally considered to be parks in the same way as the parks described earlier, they do have some similar characteristics. Unlike the parks previously discussed, specialty parks may be operated in the public or private sector, and many are constructed with the intent to generate revenue. In addition, specialty parks are designed with a specific purpose in mind; examples include theme parks, aquatic parks, and sport parks.

Theme parks offer an entertainment experience that is designed to attract visitors. Although the same description could apply to other parks, a theme park is a constructed facility that doesn’t usually rely on natural features. Common examples of theme parks in the United States include Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Six Flags America, Holiday World, and Kings Island. A management system operates these types of parks, which are designed to produce a profit.

Aquatic parks may also be designed to produce a profit. They may be operated by a municipal government or a private company. At aquatic parks, water features or aquatic facilities are the main attraction. Aquatic parks may offer water slides, activity pools, wave pools, serpentine waterways for rafting, jet sprays, splash pads, lap pools, and other amenities that allow users to interact with water. (See chapter 17 for more details about aquatics and aquatic parks.)

Skate parks are designed for skate-related recreational activities, including skateboarding, scooters, BMX bikes, wheelchairs, and in-line skating. Several municipal government agencies operate skate parks in their communities; a few are managed by private organizations. Skate parks typically include prefabricated or concrete structures and obstacles to challenge the skater. While prefabricated structures are generally less expensive to build, the concrete structures tend to require fewer repairs or maintenance in the longer term.

Another type of specialty park is the sport park, which features a sport or a combination of sports as the core product. Sport parks may be operated by a municipal government or a private company. They may provide multiple sport areas for one particular sport or for various sports. These parks are often constructed to host community, state, or national sport events that may attract numerous participants, creating a significant economic impact on the community where the park is located. Sport parks also include professional sport venues that are owned and operated by professional sport organizations. They, too, have a significant economic impact on the community.

More Excerpts From Recreation Facility Management 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access