Findings connect health, economic growth to parks in 10 communities

November 2016: For over a year, the HEAL NH Active Recreation Workgroup conducted an inventory of public recreation spaces in 10 of New Hampshire’s highest need communities. The resulting report, “Recreation Access in NH Communities,” was released last month.

The first of its kind in New Hampshire, this report inventories publicly accessible park and recreation spaces in 10 communities including Berlin, Claremont, Colebrook, Concord, Hampton, Haverhill, Manchester, Nashua, Salem, and Winchester. These communities were identified by location (urban and rural settings) and certain socio-economic and health indicators using the NH DHHS Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). Active recreation areas were then mapped for each community and visual data analysis was conducted using Geographic Information Science (GIS).

The inventory is the first phase of work being done by the Active Recreation Workgroup to help increase equitable access to indoor and outdoor recreation facilities throughout the Granite State. This is one of the primary objectives outlined in the 2014-2019 Healthy People Healthy Places Plan, a statewide plan to support healthy eating and active living in New Hampshire.

According to Beth Gustafson Wheeler, MS, Director of Community Health at the Foundation for Healthy Communities and Workgroup lead, “An amazing group of people have come to the table and brought the resources of their organizations to get this work done. For this phase, Workgroup members worked to complete the project with the help of students and faculty at Plymouth State University and University of New Hampshire who conducted the inventory.  Workgroup members then met with recreation directors and town officials to vet the data and start to formulate a picture of what recreation access looks like in these 10 communities.”

This community map shows the location of recreation spaces in the town of Claremont with a one-half mile radius around each. As stated in the report, people who reside within one-half mile of a park are more likely to engage in physical activity as compared to those who live farther away.Beth added that this work is a great example of the power of the collective impact model. Collective impact is a framework that collective action to create deep and sustainable impact using the following key conditions: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support. The project was recently highlighted in a poster session at the 2016 Active Living Research Conference held in Clearwater Beach Florida. (To see the poster and the preliminary results presented, click here.)  

The report’s findings have important implications for active living, economic growth, and the well-being of people in these communities. Recreation spaces serve as places for residents to be physically active and forge social connections. Living in close proximity to parks is an important predictor of physical activity. In New Hampshire, local and regional park spending resulted in $212,896,528 of economic activity (transactions), $71,496,917 in labor income, and contributed 1,930 jobs in 2013. Further economic benefits of parks and open space can be linked to their impact on property values: parks and open spaces attract homebuyers and are shown to increase property values, encouraging economic development.

Moving forward, the Active Recreation Workgroup will actively pursue funding opportunities to 1) promote and support the implementation of community engagement projects in the 10 target communities; 2) support recreation and park improvement projects in New Hampshire’s most vulnerable communities; and 3) assist recreation champions and stakeholders in advocating for increases in funding to improve safe access to and participation in active recreation.


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