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A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States





Supplemental Foreword


Recreational Habits and Needs

Aspects of Recreational Planning

Present Public Outdoor Recreational Facilities




A Park and Recreational Land Plan

A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States
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Chapter III: Present Public Outdoor Recreational Facilities

AT EVERY ORDINARY LEVEL of government, from the Federal Government to the village, there are holdings of land and water; in addition, a number of special agencies, not part of the Federal Government nor of State, county, or municipal governments, are owners of land. Perhaps the best example of the latter, because it belongs specifically in the recreational field, is the metropolitan park district in Ohio.

map of U.S.

Almost any land is usable for some kind of recreation whether it should be so used or not and, in recent years, for a variety of reasons which need not be recounted here, almost every agency which possesses land has to a greater or less degree entered the recreational field. The result, among agencies at levels higher than the city or county or their approximate equivalents, such as the Ohio metropolitan park district mentioned above, is an appalling picture of confusion, lack of coordination, and costly duplication of facilities and administration which has been intensified since 1933 by the expenditure of large sums of relief money on recreational lands and developments.


In attempting to give an over-all view of the present situation with respect to provision for outdoor recreation, it appears logical to start with those levels of government which provide for the greatest volume of use—the cities, counties, and metropolitan park districts. No reliable statistics exist showing attendance, but the National Recreation Association Yearbook estimates that for municipal parks it may have amounted to as much as 600,000,000 in 1938—a figure overwhelmingly greater than could be given for all other recreational areas combined. The figures given by that association on the number of participants in certain activities indicate the extent of use of municipal parks. For example, more than 74,000,000 persons made use of 280 bathing beaches in 124 cities, while 25,700,004 made use of 546 outdoor swimming pools in 212 cities. Since there were actually 569 beaches and 842 outdoor swimming pools, it may be seen that actual use of such facilities must greatly exceed the totals shown.

A study of Municipal and County Parks in the United States 1935, made by the National Park Service in cooperation with the National Recreation Association, gave the following figures on city park acreages: Of 1,425 cities reporting, 1,216 reported one or more parks, with a total acreage of 388,867. It may be fairly assumed that this comes very close to representing the total extent of city parks as of that date. Three hundred and forty-one cities reported no parks or less than an acre of park for each 2,000 of population, and in all probability most of the cities which failed to report belonged in this group.

For the same study, 77 counties reported a total of 159,261.7 acres of park land. Most of the large county systems are found in metropolitan regions and of the 77 systems reported in the county classification, four are Ohio metropolitan park districts, one is the East Bay District in California, located in and serving principally two counties, and one is the Boston Metropolitan Park District, located in and serving several counties.

Distribution of such systems is extremely spotty for the country as a whole. Of the 77 systems reported, 35, or 45.5 percent, were in three States. In some States, counties lack authority to create parks. Because of this "spottiness" of distribution their service to recreation for the country as a whole is extremely uneven. Wherever they exist in metropolitan areas, however, use of them compares favorably with that given to municipal parks; much the same type of development is placed upon them; and their closeness to using population results in day use of much the same character as that of the larger in-town parks. Since they average considerably larger in size than the city parks, what difference in development does exist tends to emphasize a naturalistic landscape development and those activities that depend somewhat on spaciousness—hiking, horseback riding, even some camping. This difference emphasizes their transition character between the typical city park and the typical State park.

An indication of the volume of use to which metropolitan or county park areas are subjected is given by Cook County, Illinois, where the 33,000 acres of Forest Preserve District lands are estimated to have an annual attendance of 15,000,000.

While the total acreage in city park systems is shown as 388,867 for the 1,425 cities reporting, not all this acreage is city park in the ordinary sense. Two hundred and ninety-nine cities reported 514 parks, with a total acreage of 129,941, city-owned but located outside the city limits. Thus these cities reach out into the metropolitan park field and possess what are in effect metropolitan park systems.

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