Park and Recreation Trends to Look Out For in 2023

Written by CivicPlus

We're back from the 2022 NRPA Annual Conference fueled with new ideas to help make government work better.
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For over half a century, the National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) Annual Conference has served as the epicenter of collaboration and education in the park and recreation industry. Toward the end of September, CivicPlus® attended the conference and enjoyed meeting many fellow professionals and customers. As a company, engaging with the professional outdoor community helps us stay informed and connected with those we serve to better understand their needs. Read on for a recap of the key learnings and trends that shaped our learning experience at this year’s conference.

Overall Recap

Continuing a significant trend observed post-COVID-19 pandemic, conversations about employee work/life balance and mental health threaded throughout the two-day event. In addition, a recent Japanese study published in Psychiatry International highlighted a correlation known for decades—the relationship between positive mental health and engaging with the outdoors. As a result, more people have begun incorporating outdoor recreation into their everyday lives to counteract the isolating nature of remote work and the stress of life post-COVID.

There were also insightful educational sessions covering topics like:

  • Crowd Sourcing Data
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Enhancing the Customer Experience
  • Technology Innovation in Buildings

Upcoming Park and Recreation Trends

A fascinating aspect of parks and recreation is how it’s continually evolving and influenced by our world. COVID-19 changed how society and businesses operate, and entities like the NRPA have taken charge of highlighting how that impacts park and recreation departments all over the United States. At this year’s conference, we learned about the following impacts:

A Decline in Youth Sports

One of the biggest takeaways from the NRPA Annual Conference this year is the overall decline in youth sports. Participation in in-person extracurricular activities was low or non-existent during the height of the pandemic due to social-distancing guidelines and health concerns. These apprehensions seem to linger even as restrictions on group gatherings have lifted and vaccination rates have risen. So it was interesting to hold a conversation on ways to reintroduce youth sports.

There was discussion on reintroducing by way of sport sampling programs, allowing parents to bring their kids to try out different activities like basketball or soccer in a condensed time. Departments can also consider offering more non-traditional sports that, by nature, are more individual, e.g., hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing.

Pickleball is Blowing Up

No longer seen as a trend in the wind, pickleball is continuing to gain popularity. Why not tennis, you may ask? To be budget-savvy, about four pickleball courts can fit into one average-sized tennis court. Plus, people enjoy pickleball due to its slowed pace and less complicated rules.

Technical Advancements in Buildings and Infrastructure

As more and more governments recognize a community movement prioritizing indoor/outdoor access, experts advised that we will see significant investments in park and recreation buildings and spaces. Improvement in air quality, clean energy, lighting, noise control, and waste management are things residents have voiced concern about and are now earning renovation dollars. Meanwhile, automation in robotic mowers and pedestrian drones is rising in implementation. 3D mapping is also in demand as communities move to digital processes and formatting.

A Note on Inclusion

With such a big push to improve and install these high-tech sports facilities, some of which are very large, it’s key to remember not to isolate more low-income residents. Especially for facilities that could support youth sports teams, inclusion across all demographics is of the utmost importance regardless of income status.

CivicPlus is Changing the Game

We sincerely thank this year’s organizers of the NRPA Annual Conference. We feel adequately educated and prepped to tackle the upcoming park and recreation challenges and trends. Technology like our CivicPlus integrated technology platform can help your department transition into cloud-based software solutions and allow you and your fellow leaders to better track, monitor, and budget for work, track service requests, issue resident communications, and more. If you’d like to learn about innovative digital solutions for your recreation department, reach out today.