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Report: How COVID, DEI Impact Pennsylvanians' Relationships with Parks

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Friday, October 8, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's parks and outdoor recreational spaces became havens for many in the state looking for safe activities during the pandemic.

A new report from Penn State professors aims to better understand residents' relationships with parks and lay the groundwork for making parks and recreation services more inclusive and equitable.

The report surveyed 600 residents from across the state, in rural, suburban, and urban areas, about diversity, equity and inclusion in parks, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on these spaces. Although most respondents said they felt a sense of belonging in their community parks, people of color reported feeling less comfortable and less represented in parks than their white counterparts.

Sammie Powers, assistant professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State Abington and the study's co-author, said the answers can help build the foundation for creating more inclusivity in parks.

"I think we saw a lot more of a national awareness of the need to address some of these issues of systemic inequalities," Powers observed. "I think we saw that translate into the park and recreation world, with a lot of folks asking these questions, 'How do folks feel in our park spaces? Do they feel welcome in our parks and trails and facilities?' "

The Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society commissioned the report. Surveyed residents also said they would like to see more resources go toward increasing safety at local parks for communities of color.

On questions related to park use during the pandemic, Pennsylvanians said they felt safe being outside and using trails, but were less likely to feel comfortable with indoor facilities or attending in-person events.

Andrew Mowen, professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State University and co-author of the study, said some of these findings could play an important role to ensure public health protocols are in place at Pennsylvania parks going forward.

"One of the key factors that came up was the importance of routine cleaning and maintenance, particularly at restrooms, as well as masking," Mowen reported. "To have as much of that be as clean as possible, we need to invest in that."

An upcoming report will pose similar questions around COVID-19 and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion among local officials.


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