The pandemic may have reduced people’s recreation options, but it inspired a whole new love for the great outdoors. About one in three people say they are getting outside more than ever before, with six in 10 saying they’re finally taking time to explore their local communities, according to OnePoll. Among their top excursion destinations? Local parks, trails and lakes.

Parks, which include everything from national parks to dog parks and public beaches to marinas, give community members a way to exercise, enjoy fresh air and take in natural splendors all while safely distancing from others. In addition to neighborhood parks, the United States is home to 3,729 state parks and 423 national parks spanning more than 84 million acres, according to the National Park Foundation.

While COVID-19 caused steep declines in visitors to places like theaters and restaurants, parks saw an 80-percent surge in visitors from January to September 2020, according to GPS data from Google. 

Some state and national parks saw record-breaking turnout last year. For example, the National Park Service reports that Yellowstone National Park logged its busiest-ever September with more than 800,000 visitors—up 21 percent from the previous year.

Even before the pandemic, parks were beloved by community members, with four in five U.S. adults saying that parks and recreation are essential, according to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). For 77 percent of people, access to a high-quality park, playground, public open space or recreation center is an important deciding factor on where to live. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans are also more likely to vote for local political leaders who prioritize park and recreation funding.

The benefits of venturing to a park are many, and you don’t even need to do anything once you get there. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research reveals that spending just 20 minutes in a park or green space—even just sitting on a park bench—is enough to elevate mood and reduce stress. 

With nearly eight in 10 adults saying the pandemic is a major source of stress in their life, according to the American Psychological Association, parks provide a way to boost their physical, emotional and mental well-being. 

Read on to learn how parks departments and recreation centers can use promotional products to create happier, healthier and more connected communities. 

The United States has about one park per every 2,281 residents, according to the NRPA. However, not everyone has easy access to them. Bloomberg reports that approximately 100 million people (including 28 million children) are not within a 10-minute walking distance of a park. Those who live near a park may find it overgrown, vandalized or in need of repair. 

While most parks and recreation agencies rely on taxpayer support and generated revenue, many do not receive sufficient funding. Promotional products distributors can work with city officials and nonprofit park foundations on fundraising campaigns to reinvigorate parks and ensure that community members have access to recreation facilities and programming. 

One trend to watch this year is the continuation of virtual programs. Last year, many parks adapted to stay-at-home mandates by offering virtual resources ranging from online fitness classes to virtual sightseeing tours. 

This year, the NRPA predicts that dozens of park and recreation agencies will stream their live youth sports events, allowing families to watch games from the socially-distanced safety of their vehicles. For families on the fence about joining sports leagues again, promotional campaigns promoting safety protocols and the benefits of staying active could be a way to get their athletes back in the game. 


Here’s a look at the cities that invest the most dollars per resident when it comes to parks and recreation each year:

• Seattle, Washington: $320/resident
• Minneapolis, Minnesota: $291/resident
• Arlington, Virginia: $291/resident 
• San Francisco, California: $264/resident
• Plano, Texas: $235/resident
• Portland, Oregon: $231/resident
• Washington, DC: $231/resident
• St. Paul, Minnesota: $201/resident
• New York, New York: $198/resident
• Boise, Idaho: $197/resident

Source: Statista 


Both state and national parks are deemed protected land, but different governing bodies oversee them. State governments oversee state parks while the federal government oversees national parks. 


Parks and recreation agencies play a key role in providing sports to children and teens. Consider these stats:

Five in six parks and recreation agencies work with partners such as sports associations and schools to provide youth sports activities:

92% of parks and recreation agencies charge registration fees

92% offer team sports leagues

58% offer individual sports leagues

49% offer non-league after-school activities

33% offer travel leagues

33% offer adaptive/inclusive sports activities

With physical distancing requirements and tightened budgets, 90 percent of parks and recreation agencies report feeling significant detrimental effects of COVID-19. 

Promotional products distributors can work with these agencies to address some of the biggest challenges when delivering youth sports activities:

59% Not enough volunteer coaches

28% Lack of interest among youth for sports activities

19% Not enough administrative staff or resources

17% Not enough staff coaches

14% Lack of sufficient funding


Parks and recreation agencies offer a variety of programming for community members, with the most common including:

Themed special events: 88%

Team sports: 87%

Social recreation events: 87%

Fitness classes: 82%

Health and wellness education: 81%

Individual sports: 74%

Safety training: 72%

Aquatics: 71%

Racquet sports: 67%

Performing arts: 64%

Trips and tours: 63%

Cultural crafts: 61%

Martial arts: 60%

Source: NRPA


These states are a haven for outdoor recreationists—each one contains more than 100 state parks:

• California: 270
• New York: 215
• Washington: 212
• Oregon: 195
• Florida: 191
• Massachusetts: 154
• Illinois: 142
• Pennsylvania: 121
• Alaska: 119
• Connecticut: 109 

Source: U.S. Forest Service 


Three-quarters of respondents in a OnePoll survey say they feel happier after spending time outdoors, and 66 percent say they are now doing more outdoor activities close to home. Connect with these outdoor enthusiasts by choosing promotional products they can use outside, from lawn chairs to games. 


In 2019 (the most recent data available), these national parks drew the most recreational visitors:

  1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 15 million
  2. Blue Ridge Parkway: 14.9 million
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 12.5 million
  4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 9.4 million
  5. Lincoln Memorial: 7.8 million
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7.5 million
  7. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 7.5 million
  8. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.3 million
  9. Grand Canyon National Park: 5.97 million
  10. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5.6 million

Source: National Park Service 


Here’s how often people visit their local park and recreation facilities:

41% visit 1-5 times per year

19% visit 6-10 times per year

16% visit 21-50 times per year

Source: NRPA’s 2020 Engagement With Parks Report


The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for recreation professionals to grow 10 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is significantly faster than other jobs. 


Anup Gupta, president of distributor AG PrintPromo Solutions in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, explains how he recently closed a new apparel order with a park client: 

“A park gift shop contacted us to quote on a hoodie they had been buying from somebody else. They sent us the style number and a price target. As we priced that particular hoodie, we knew we would definitely be able to match their target price but, like we do with all inquiries, we took the time to understand the client’s needs, target market and what they plan to accomplish from that particular purchase or promotion. In doing so, we offered the client a hoodie style that matched all the other required specs including color, material, thickness and construction but was eco-friendly. The fabric contained a percentage of recycled plastic bottles. When it came to price, with the help of my supplier, we were able to price it lower than the other hoodie. We offered pricing and information on both items. We even suggested the client display a few crushed plastic bottles next to the hoodies rack with a placard showing how the hoodies contained a percentage of recycled plastic bottles. As a result, the client loved the idea and placed the order with us. Park-goers are typically nature-loving people and they were wholeheartedly into this product. It was a win-win all the way around.”


Ideal for national and state park gift shops, the Dri Sac keeps phones and other valuables dry for a day of canoeing, kayaking or fishing. It features a roll top with Fastex-style clasps for a waterproof seal and includes an attached carrying strap. 

Pro Towels  /  PPAI 112755, S8  /


City recreation departments can promote physical activity close to home with Promotional Spike Ball. This portable game blends volleyball and ping pong for family fun in the backyard, at the beach or at the park. A logoed base, screen-printed side logo and logoed balls keep brands visible. 

Disrupt Sports  /  PPAI 698768, S1  /


The Koozie® Everest Oversized Chair comes in handy at all kinds of outdoor events, from camping to watching sports. With a soft headrest, extra-large cup holder and built-in bottle opener, this chair will become a fan favorite. 

Koozie Group  /  PPAI 114187, S13  /


Tourists can pick up the DTA Legacy Truck Cap as a souvenir from their visit to a state or national park. Available in 11 colors, this unstructured cap features a washed canvas crown and mesh. 

Kati Sportcap  /  PPAI 113758, S5  /


Available in completely customizable shapes, Compressed T-shirts make fun giveaways for everything from citywide 5K races to local and national park celebrations.

Smashing Factory  /  PPAI 384517, S1  /


Picnics in the park are easier and more eco-friendly with the Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Sets. Each set is packed in a durable case with a metal carabiner and includes a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks made from 100-percent natural bamboo. 

Bagito  /  PPAI 745508, S3  /


The eco-friendly, recycled Adventure Tote is made from post-consumer plastic bottles and can be folded up into an interior pocket to save space. It’s perfect for carrying snacks, sunscreen, bug spray and other items for a day hike, picnic or other outdoor adventure. The tote bag is available with five imprint options (screen print, Brilliance, ColorVista, sublimation and Sparkle) and in four color choices (red, royal blue, black and white).

BAG MAKERS, Inc.  /  PPAI 111408, S11  /


The Reeves Bicycle Helmet is an all-around style for road cycling, urban commuting, mountain biking and other activities requiring head protection. The classic design is a longstanding favorite that features ample ventilation, wheel adjustment for exact fit and a comfortable chin strap. Hard solid ABS plastic shell protects with EPS shock-absorbing core technology.

Motto, Inc.  /  PPAI 436753, S1 /


Through promotional campaigns, city, state and national parks can spread the word about events, experiences, initiatives and programs. Start with these upcoming events:

National Park Week: April 17-25

Earth Day: April 22 (This year’s theme is “Restore Our Earth.”)

National Arbor Day: April 30

National Wildflower Week: May 3-7

Great Outdoors Month: June

National Trails Day: June 5 

National Forest Week: July 12-18  


Audrey Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth-based writer and former associate editor of PPB.