Why We Need Close to Home Outdoor Recreation Alternatives

May 30, 2023

Learn more about the legislation Congress is considering to increase access to nature and public spaces.

While parks and access to nature are critically important to a person’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, many residents of densely populated cities and sparsely populated rural communities do not have easy access to them. Because this type of civic infrastructure is relatively land-use intensive and expensive for local governments to maintain, it is often difficult to motivate elected officials to make this kind of investment without significant state and federal government assistance. An alternative to expanding a community’s greenspace footprint is to make it easier for residents to access these public spaces through better public transit options or other incentives that lower a family’s transportation costs.

There are two pieces of legislation that Congress is considering right now that both propose solutions to increasing access to nature and public spaces, the Outdoors for All Act and the Transit to Trails Act. Both bills would help alleviate many of the pressures policymakers are facing as they try to close racial, social, and economic equity gaps in access to nature and the outdoors. As a part of KABOOM!’s commitment to addressing these inequities, the nonprofit supports .both pieces of legislation and is working with our partners to get Congress to pass them and have President Biden sign them into law.

There is a third option we hope local lawmakers will also consider as they explore ways to address the access equity gap to outdoor recreation in their communities. Close to home outdoor recreation infrastructure, like playgrounds, can offer many of the same benefits as parks, trails, and larger outdoor recreation spaces without the same land-use intensity, high legacy maintenance costs, and the need for new mobility infrastructure investment. When designed in a comprehensive manner, playgrounds can include nature-based design elements which offers children and families the benefits of both play and access to nature. And because playgrounds are within easy distance of where people live, they can serve as convening spaces for other civic gatherings or support the development and use of other types of recreational and educational infrastructure like libraries and community centers.

Well-designed community playspaces can provide children with their first, critical experience of the joy of being outdoors and in nature. KABOOM! is working with partners like the Children & Nature Network and the Trust for Public Land in Atlanta and San Francisco to ensure that the playspaces we are building include these nature-based elements. In addition to providing children and their caregivers vital access to nature, they are also teaching children at an early age the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.

Access to nature can take many forms and needs to be developed in a variety of ways. Close to home outdoor recreation options are an important way we can address this issue in the short-term and at a relatively lower cost. When designed comprehensively, these spaces can provide kids the numerous and lifelong physical and mental health benefits of both play and access to nature.