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Three Programs Closing the Outdoor Recreation Gap

Approximately 100 million Americans, including 28 million children, lack access to a park or greenspace within a convenient 10-minute walking distance from their homes. This deficit in local outdoor recreation spaces disproportionately affects urban and low-income communities, where residents face significant barriers to accessing green areas for leisure and physical activity. The consequences of this limited access include potential negative impacts on public health, reduced opportunities for social interaction, and a diminished connection with nature.

The good news is that policymakers, NGOs, and companies are taking notice. There has been a recent push to promote equitable distribution of parks and greenspaces to enhance the quality of life for all Americans, regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic status. As we look to where external stakeholders can make the biggest impact, we break down three federal programs that aim to increase equitable access to local recreation spaces:

The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) is a program administered by the National Park Service as part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grants program. The ORLP aims to support projects that create or reinvigorate outdoor recreational opportunities in urban areas, especially in underserved communities.Through the ORLP, NPS awards grant funding to state and local governments, as well as other entities, to develop or renovate outdoor recreational spaces, such as parks, playgrounds, trails, and community centers. By focusing on urban areas and underserved communities, the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership seeks to provide equitable access to outdoor spaces and recreational activities, thereby improving the quality of life for residents, encouraging active lifestyles, and promoting the preservation of green spaces in urban environments.

LWCF Stateside is the sister program of ORLP and provides similar funding opportunities to ORLP, but with more decision making authority from state and local governments. Under LWCF, states are awarded a predetermined amount of funding to distribute to projects that protect and expand local parks, ballfields, wildlife habitats, forests, and other public lands. Stateside projects, like ORLP, require a 50-50 match between federal NPS dollars and state/local government, NGO, or philanthropy funds. While there’s a lot of overlap in what ORLP and Stateside can accomplish, states can be more nimble with smaller projects in all parts of the state (not just urban) and can work closely with local community members to move these projects forward.

The Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (ATIIP) is dedicated to promoting and enhancing active transportation options in communities, such as walking, cycling, and other forms of non-motorized travel. By investing in the development and improvement of infrastructure, such as bike lanes, pedestrian pathways, and multi-use trails, the program aims to create safer and more accessible opportunities for walking, cycling, and other non-motorized travel. The primary goals include reducing traffic congestion, improving public health through increased physical activity, and fostering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions. Through collaboration with various stakeholders and funding from federal, state, and local sources, the program strives to create vibrant, interconnected communities that prioritize active transportation as a viable and eco-friendly mode of commuting and recreation.

Pursuing equitable access to outdoor recreation and greenspaces is not exclusive to these three programs, but they are certainly a good place to start. Stakeholders can focus on the near-term on funding and enhancing these three programs to ensure money gets out the door to communities who need it most.


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