Improve Equity

Improve Equity of Parks, Trail and Conservation Lands

Recreation and conservation areas are a community’s assets. In this regard, parks, trails, and conservation lands should be available to the community equitably and benefit all. The National Recreation and Park Association’s position on social equity states:

Our nation’s public parks and recreation services should be equally accessible and available to all people regardless of income level, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age. Public parks, recreation services and recreation programs including the maintenance, safety, and accessibility of parks and facilities, should be provided on an equitable basis to all citizens of communities served by public agencies.[1]

Improving equity is also a strategy to improve health. A recent study found that easy access to parks, adequate park distribution, activities that increase physical activities, and well-maintained parks all contribute to a community’s health. The lack of one or more of these parameters can be an indicator of an underserved community from a health perspective.[2]

The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board’s Unifying Strategy will improve the equity of its programs by implementing the recommendations in this priority through the following actions:

  • Providing funds to Build, Renovate, and Maintain Parks and Trails for a variety of outdoor recreation uses,
  • Committing to Maintain and Improve the Mapped Inventory of outdoor recreation and conservation land and facilities to know where there are gaps in the parks, trails and conservation land system,
  • Striving to Distribute Funds Equitably Across the State to diverse communities, and
  • Adaptively managing grant programs and making Changes to the Grant Programs as needed to improve equity in state resources.

Partners can also help improve equity by including the following recommendations in their work.

Locate and build recreation facilities for underserved populations

Research shows that typically underserved populations are those who live in neighborhoods that are below the median household income level or are a racial or ethnic minority. [3]  The Governor’s Task Force on Outdoor Recreation also found that many of populations of low income, people of color, and persons with disabilities are not getting outdoors as much as the rest of the population.[4]

Consistently, the state plan for outdoor recreation has identified as a priority the need to improve the recreation opportunities for underserved populations. The Land and Water Conservation Fund administered by the National Park Service which provided funding support for this plan requires states to consider the accessibility of projects to all segments of the public including minority populations, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and other underserved populations. [5]

As a first step to assessing the needs of underserved populations, the Recreation and Conservation Office created a Grant Applicant Data Tool to display the demographic characteristics of each census tract in Washington State. The map also includes an inventory of recreation land and facilities. This map is a first step to assessing whether communities with high percentages of low income, people of color, and people with disability have access to recreation experiences.  The map shows that underserved communities can be found across the state in urban and rural communities.


This award-winning playground provides an accessible recreation experience for children and people of all ages and abilities.

More work is needed to improve the inventory of recreation facilities and analyze the population demographic data. Recreation providers can work to conduct further analysis at the local level and provide equitable service to communities in need. Recreation providers and funders can fill gaps in the recreation system with an emphasis on underserved populations.

Connect more people to popular activities

Overall, walking is the top ranked recreation activity for all demographics regardless of age, race, gender, income, or education level. Activities out in nature, leisure activities, and swimming are also popular recreation activities for residents. [6]   Support for these activities will reach the broadest segment of the population. With limited funding and resources, communities can look first to the activities that meet the most need. Interestingly, these popular activities often occur simultaneously with other recreation activities such as hiking, walking at the beach, or relaxing while viewing wildlife. Recreation opportunities that capitalize on more than one type of activity will have multiple benefits and reach more users.

For a list of the recreation activities under each category in the chart below, click here

Participation Rates for All Categories


Provide experiences where people go most

Outdoor recreation starts at the front door. However, people with the means to travel also enjoy heading to destinations for specific types of outdoor recreation experiences that may not be available close to home. Encouraging people to get outside depends on where recreation and conservation lands are located so people can enjoy them often.

Overall, the most frequented location for outdoor recreation is at a State Park, followed by a local park and private facilities. Preferences change when looking at specific types of recreation by location. For example, the highest ranked place where people go walking is in their neighborhood. Local parks are the preferred place to have a family gathering, play, relax, or attend an outdoor event. If someone wants to go hiking or experience nature, they are likely headed to a state park. Below is a chart to that shows the different recreation activities by location from the 2017 general population survey. [7]

The types of activities that people choose connect them to certain places. Recreation providers can focus their work on the types of recreation activates people do most at their location as a way to benefit the most people.

Participation Rates for All Recreation Categories


Participation Rates by Location and by Selectable Category




The data displayed for “Participation Rates of the Location within a Recreation Category” shows a percentage of the population that participates within the participation rate of the chosen recreation category. For example, 77 percent of the 94 percent of the population that walked in 2017 went walking in their neighborhood. The data displayed in the chart is within a 1-2 percent margin of error when compared to the data presented in the 2017 Assessment of Demand.

Enhance Community Health and Safety

Conserving green space and providing diverse recreation opportunities improves a community’s mental, social and physical health and safety. Through greater collaboration with public health agencies and healthcare providers, outdoor recreation providers can leverage support for improving outdoor recreation opportunities while improving community health and reducing medical costs.

People need to feel safe in the outdoors if they are to go outside to recreate and enjoy nature. Cultural, social, and structural barriers prevent people from recreating outside. For example, walking and biking safely are of concern especially when 69 percent of adults who walk use roads and streets without sidewalks. [8] It is a goal of the State’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Walkways Plan to reduce pedestrian and bicycle injuries. [9]

Recreation providers and funders can address safety concerns by:

  • Locating and designing parks with safety elements as a primary objective. Examples include reducing places to hide in a park, removing graffiti, and locating parks near other public buildings.
  • Locating and designing trails with safety elements as a primary objective. Examples include separating pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles; improving way finding; considering how to deter crime; improving emergency response time.
  • Expanding the availability of cellular coverage, where appropriate.
  • Creating recreation programs for people that lack experience in the outdoors. Examples include tours, buddy systems, and group outings.
  • Including creative way finding and safety messages to educate users.
  • Managing for conflicts between different types of users such as separating motorized and non-motorized hiking trails or motorized and non-motorized boating access.

The Spokane Regional Health District is working to enhance the safety of Rochester Heights Park.

[1] National Recreation and Park Association, “Social Equity and Parks and Recreation” 2017.

[2] National Recreation and Park Association, “Parks and Recreation in Underserved Areas: A Public Health Perspective” 2017.

[3] Hardcastle, Alan, “Measures and Metrics for a WWRP Program Match Reduction or Waiver Policy for Underserved Populations and Commuities in Need” 2016.

[4] Recreation Conservation Office, “Governor’s Blue Ribbon Parks & OUtdoor Recreation Task Force | Final Recommendations to Governor Inslee” 2014.

[5] National Park Service, “Land and Water Conservation Fund State Assistance Program” 2021. Land and Water Conservation Fund State Assistance Program (

[6][7][8][9] Jostad, Schultz, Chase, “Assessment of of Outdoor Recreation Demand Report” 2017.

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