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Recreational Use of Land in the United States

Metropolitan Recreation Areas

A metropolitan region or district, as defined by the Federal Census of 1930, comprises a central city (or cities) and all adjacent and contiguous civil divisions having a density of not less than 150 inhabitants per square mile, and also, as a rule, those civil divisions of less density that are directly contiguous to the central cities, or are entirely or nearly surrounded by minor civil divisions that have the required density.1

1 U. S. Bureau of the Census, Metropolitan districts; Population and Area, Fifteenth Census, 1930) Wash., pp. 5—6.

Ninety-six metropolitan districts were established in 1930, each having an aggregate population of 100,000 or more, and containing one or more central cities of 50,000 or more population.2

2 Ibid.

For the purposes of metropolitan park planning, the determining factor is not density of population, but accessibility for frequent recreational use by the inhabitants, particularly of a central city (or cities). Under modern methods of transportation, especially by automobile, such accessibility for comparatively frequent recreational use may be secured in a metropolitan region within a radius of approximately 50 miles from the center of the central city (or cities). Such a region is considerably larger than the metropolitan district, as defined by the Census Bureau.

Recreational areas in a metropolitan recreation system are sometimes located within the central city and in smaller cities within the metropolitan region. As a rule they are located in the more open, rurallike parts of the region, since the primary purpose of the metropolitan park is to provide an area of large extent, preserving a naturalistic landscape and opportunities for such active forms of recreation as fit harmoniously into a natural landscape as, for instance, picnicking, hiking, riding, boating, fishing, camping, winter sports, and nature study.

There are, however, numerous exceptions to this rule among the properties owned and administered by authorities controlling metropolitan recreation areas. Among such areas may be found children's playgrounds, playfield parks, areas devoted specifically to golf, bathing beaches, stadia, boulevards, and parkways; in short, such areas and facilities as are characteristic of municipal recreational area systems.

There is no single plan or method of providing metropolitan recreational areas in the United States. Lying within 50 miles of a central city (or cities), there are examples of recreational areas owned and operated by the Federal, State, county, township, and municipal governments, and by special metropolitan districts.

There are only six special metropolitan park districts in the United States: Boston, Rhode Island, Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, and Cincinnati. Tacoma is included in a metropolitan park district, but this is primarily a city system. Most of the special park districts in Illinois have jurisdiction over an area larger than the central city, but these likewise are essentially city systems.

Available data indicate that in 1930 four metropolitan park districts controlled park acreage as follows: Boston Metropolitan Park District, 11,500 acres; Cleveland Metropolitan Park District, 9,369 acres; Akron Metropolitan Park District, 1,450 acres; Toledo Metropolitan Park District, 215 acres.

Many municipalities own and administer recreational areas outside their boundaries. In 1925—26 the number of cities reporting metropolitan parks owned by them was 109, with 245 separate areas.3 In 1930, 186 cities reported owning a total of 381 parks in their metropolitan regions with a total of nearly 90,000 acres.4

3 Park Recreation Areas in the United States, Bulletin No. 462, May 1928.

4 U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Park Recreation Areas in the United States, 1930, Bulletin No. 565, May 1932.

During the 5-year period, this marked increase in the number of cities owning and administering recreation areas in their metropolitan regions, and the increase in the number of such areas, indicates a tendency in municipal recreation planning to include the region. Many of the municipal park and recreation departments operate under laws specifically giving them authority to acquire and administer lands for recreational purposes both within and without the boundaries of their respective cities.

Another important governmental agency in metropolitan park planning is the county. The majority of the 74 counties reporting one or more county parks in 1930 lie in the metropolitan regions of cities. Two counties (Cook and Du Page) in the metropolitan region of Chicago, four counties (Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union) in New Jersey, and one county (Westchester) in New York, owned and administered 61,177.3 acres in 1930, or over 56 percent of the total county park areas in the United States.

Twelve counties in the metropolitan regions of 10 cities controlled 83,043.7 acres or over 76 percent of the total county park area in the United States.5

5 Park Recreation Areas in the United states, 1930, op. cit., p. 37—43.

Many of the State recreation areas are within the metropolitan regions of cities (radius of 50 miles of central city), and serve these cities as metropolitan a parks or recreation areas. No comprehensive study or analysis of the numbers of State recreation areas located within metropolitan regions of cities has been made. In Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts practically all of the State recreation areas are within the metropolitan regions of one or more cities. In New York 6 of the Long Island State parks, the Palisades Interstate Park, and some of the State parks of New Jersey are within the metropolitan region of New York, Newark, and Jersey City; 12 in the metropolitan region of Syracuse; 4 in the metropolitan region of Rochester; 5 within the metropolitan region of Albany; as well as 7 in Massachusetts, which are found in the same region; and 1 within the metropolitan region of Buffalo. In Michigan nine State parks are in the metropolitan region of Detroit, and five in are the metropolitan region of Grand Rapids. The Indiana Dunes State Park is within the metropolitan region of Chicago. There are other examples of the relation of State recreation areas to the metropolitan regions of cities, but the cities cited show that one of the important functions of many State park areas is to provide a comparatively frequent recreational service to the population of central cities and their metropolitan regions.

Falling within a 50-mile radius of certain cities are some national recreational areas controlled by the National Park Service. These serve more or less as metropolitan recreation areas to the adjacent cities. Examples of cities having national recreation areas within a 50-mile radius are Knoxville, Tenn. (Great Smoky Mountains National Park); Chattanooga, Tenn. (Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park); Richmond, Va. (Petersburg National Military Park); Washington, D. C. (Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park); Little Rock, Ark. (Hot Springs National Park); Baltimore, Md. (Gettysburg National Military Park); Denver, Colo. (Rocky Mountain National Park); and Seattle, Wash. (Mount Olympus National Monument). Nearly 700,000 acres of park lands are comprised in the areas within the metropolitan regions of the above cities, but the bulk of the total acreage is within the metropolitan regions of two comparatively small cities—Denver and Knoxville.

Some of the national forests in the West and in the East are now providing certain recreational services usually provided by the larger metropolitan parks. Such cities as Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, and many smaller cities in the West now enjoy such recreation advantages in the national forests; while in the South and East, Little Rock, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Erie, and many smaller cities are within metropolitan-use range of national forests. As the full plans of the United States Forest Service mature, the possibilities of the national forests as metropolitan recreational areas will no doubt become much more important.

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