New Year, New Ways for Public Health Advocates to Improve Park Access and Health

The start of a new year is an inspiring time.  We embrace this moment as a fresh start, setting ambitious resolutions to adopt positive or healthy habits in our everyday lives. We hope these changes will eventually lead us to become healthier, happier, or kinder individuals.  With enthusiasm and gusto, we take significant leaps to realize our newfound commitments.  

We can channel this energy beyond our self-improvement goals to make meaningful impacts in our communities. As you enter the office in the new year and perhaps are beginning to tackle grant proposals (like the CDC’s upcoming Notice of Funding Opportunity for SPAN, HOP, or REACH), we are here to point you to effective strategies that strengthen communities and achieve big public health goals.  Anyone who has been successful with their personal new year’s commitments knows that the key is taking seemingly small and practical steps that make the continuous effort possible. In a similar fashion, we are here to help break down our public health aspirations into impactful, yet do-able activities.

In our field, there are no magic elixirs or “as seen on tv” gadgets that can provide us quick fixes, but what we do have is evidence-based research that tells us exactly the ingredients we need to boost community health. Last year, the Community Prevention Services Task Force published this guidance that provides public health advocates a blueprint on how to support community members in realizing the health benefits that parks and greenspaces provide. The guidance concludes that parks, trails, and greenways have a significant measurable impact on people being physically active when community members:  

  • Have a voice in shaping park design and improvements.
  • Can participate in structured programs like walking groups, exercise classes, or other social opportunities.
  • Are informed about what a park has to offer them.
  • Can safely and comfortably walk or bike to them and can easily access park spaces at times and locations that are convenient for them.

As we work to make parks community destinations that are safe, convenient, and equitable to access, the interventions listed above can be translated into goals and activities that integrate seamlessly into existing public health programs.

With these interventions top of mind, here are four resolutions to adopt in 2023:  

  1. Get out, meet new people and engage them in park access improvements. Center community members’ lived experiences of accessing parks in their neighborhoods. Direct resources to support community-led initiatives and connect communities to decision-makers and agency staff so their needs and vision can be realized in planning and funding processes.
  2. Give public health programs a makeover by connecting them to parks. Programs like Walk With Ease, Safe Routes to School, and SNAP-ed support specific audiences in physical activity and the management of chronic diseases. Weave opportunities like walks to parks or community walk audits into ongoing program activities.
  3. Try something new with physical activity promotions by spreading the word about parks. Exercise those creative juices to highlight the opportunities that parks provide.  Maybe this looks like creating wayfinding signage that highlights routes to parks or supporting partners to ensure promotions about parks are culturally and linguistically accessible.
  4. Spark fresh relationships and work together to improve the routes leading to parks. Public health advocates can play a role in planning connections that make parks easy and safe to walk and bike to.  Bring together stakeholders, show the health benefits of potential improvements, and/or support temporary demonstration projects that inform on-the-ground changes.   

These resolutions are not based on gimmicks, and they don’t require unreasonable amounts of willpower. Plus, research shows us that they work! Join us in renewing our commitment to improving the health of our communities. Explore ideas and examples of how to get started in our new resource Actionable Public Health Strategies to Boost Community Well-Being with Safe Routes to Parks.