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Parks provide numerous opportunities for physical activity (PA). Previous studies have evaluated parks’ physical features, but few have assessed how park staff influence PA.
We conducted semistructured interviews with 49 park directors, focusing on perceptions of their role, park programs, marketing and outreach, external collaborations, and PA promotion. Directors also completed a questionnaire providing demographics, education and training, and other personal characteristics.
Park directors’ descriptions of their roles varied widely, from primarily administrative to emphasizing community interaction, though most (70% to 80%) reported offering programs and community interaction as primary. Including PA in current programs and adding PA-specific programs were the most commonly reported ways of increasing PA. Also noted were facility and staffing improvements, and conducting citywide marketing. Many directors felt inadequately trained in marketing. Most parks reported community collaborations, but they appeared fairly superficial. An increasing administrative burden and bureaucracy were recurring themes throughout the interviews.
Staff training in marketing and operation of PA programs is needed. Partnerships with health departments and organizations can help facilitate the PA promotion potential of parks. As there are competing views of how parks should be managed, standardized benchmarks to evaluate efficiency may help to optimize usage and PA promotion.
The authors are with the RAND Corporation, Health Program, Santa Monica, CA.