Recreation Access


Recreation access addresses the percentage of individuals who live reasonably close to a location for engaging in health promoting physical activities at venues such as parks or recreational facilities, trails, open space, community pools and public gyms.  This also relates to participation or barriers to participation in organized sports for youth. 

Living near and ease of access to public parks, community recreation facilities and trails are an excellent way to encourage greater physical activity and overall better health in a community. Parks and recreation spaces enable residents in a community to experience nature, engage in exercise and enjoy leisure time — all having a positive influence on an individual’s health. However, more than 80 percent of adults do not meet recommended guidelines for both cardiovascular and strength training activities, and over 80 percent of adolescents fail to meet recommended activity guidelines — which combined with proper nutrition is vital to sustaining good health (1).

Health Disparities and Inequities

Access to parks and recreation centers is a health equity issue, as historically underserved minority populations often experience worse health outcomes compared to other populations, and evidence shows that living near parks and recreation centers can increase physical activity levels in communities of color (2). Additionally, there are other factors that influence usage of the recreation facilities such as the presence of exercise equipment for older adults, clear lines of sight between benches and the playground, and benches near playground equipment.

One of the barriers to using municipal recreation facilities may be the cost associated with usage. Some recreation departments have instituted discount programs to make the facilities accessible to most. For example, a local foundation in one municipality provides full scholarships to recreation facilities to individuals in need.

Differences in the availability of recreational resources may contribute to disparities in physical activity between racial/ethnic populations and socioeconomic status. Evidence shows that minority neighborhoods were significantly more likely than white neighborhoods to not have recreational facilities, and low-income neighborhoods were 4.5 times more likely than more affluent neighborhoods to not have recreational facilities (3). The National Recreation and Parks Association noted that several studies have explored the connections between park use and physical activity levels, as summarized:

Park Access- Ease of access to parks is associated with greater use. Frequency of park utilization and physical activity is much higher for those who live within walking distance of a park.

Park Distribution- Disparities in park distribution are particularly serious in areas with low-income and racial/ethnic populations.

Park Facilities- In parks there are certain types of facilities that generate higher levels of physical activity among users, such as trails and playgrounds.

Park Conditions- Parks and facilities that are consistently and well-maintained keep their aesthetic allures and make them more safe and attractive for residents to increase their use and physical activity levels as a result (4).

Increasing research has shown that exposure to natural areas and green space can increase feelings of positive emotions while negative emotions and stress are decreased - that weekly exposure increases health benefits and can have restorative effects on health. A similar study in the Netherlands showed that residents of neighborhoods with ready access to parks and green space on average had better health, with the effects more pronounced in the elderly, housewives, and individuals from lower socioeconomic groups. Other studies carried out in Finland and the UK showed that perceived stress and self-reported health was influenced by the total time spent recreating in natural areas and parks (5).

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

92 percent of Jefferson County residents live within half a mile from a park.

- CDC Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (2015).

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

Throughout the county, participants cited the built environment as a barrier to recreation. More specifically, it was noted that the lack of bicycle and pedestrian paths in certain parts of the community impedes upon walkability and bikeability. Participants also named poor street lighting as a barrier to recreation. Overall, residents felt that safety improvements such as better street lighting, sidewalks, bike infrastructure, and connectivity to existing parks and recreation facilities would encourage greater levels of physical activity in neighborhoods where recreation access is limited.

In the Conifer focus group, participants noted that there is a need for a youth recreation center. This relates to concerns around youth mental health and substance use, as a youth recreation center would provide a safe space for youth to gather outside of school hours. Click here to learn more about active living.

A few participants expressed concerns about utilizing county open space parks because of exposure to pesticide sprayings occurring at these areas. 

The map to the right shows areas of Jefferson county with low (light yellow) to high walkability (dark blue).  An estimated 277,032 people, or 50 percent of the total population, in Jefferson County live in areas that are considered higher than average on the walkability index. This index was calculated using a combination of intersection density, residential density, land use mix, and retail floor-area ratios .

Source: Five Points Geoplanning

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Findings

Some informants noted a perceived drop-off in the use of their community recreation centers by Hispanic and Latino residents. They expressed fears that the current national climate is creating anxiety in this community around the use of public facilities for engaging in physical activity. Some informants expressed a need for physical activity programming that targets Hispanic and Latino communities by encouraging the use of recreational facilities, citing high levels of obesity and heart disease. One informant proposed the creation of a free bikeshare program targeting low-income and Hispanic and Latino families to enjoy the county’s trail infrastructure and become more active.

Concerns around recreation access for Hispanic and Latino youth was raised as an issue by a key informant who noted that it can be expensive for Hispanic and Latino families to have their youth participate in organized sports. In addition, there is a limited number of playgrounds and recreational facilities coupled with readily available fast food in some Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods. This combination of circumstances is essential to understanding the higher levels of obesity and heart disease among Hispanics and Latinos, as was pointed out by the same key informant. 

Parks and Green Spaces in Jefferson County (2017)

Source: Jefferson County, incorporated municipalities, and DRCOG


Reference List

1. Healthy People 2020 (2018). Physical Activity. Retrieved from:

2. Cohen, D., McKenzie, T., Sehgai, A., Williamson, S., Golinelli, D., Lurie, N. (2007). Contribution of public parks to physical activity. American Journal of Public Health 97 (3), 509-514. Retrieved from:

3. Moore, L., Roux, A., Evenson, K., McGinn, A., & Brines, M. (2008). Availability of recreational resources in minority and low socioeconomic status areas. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 34 (1) 16-22. Retrieved from:

4. National Recreation and Parks Association. (2011). Parks & Recreation in Underserved Areas: A public health perspective. Retrieved from:

5. Bell, S., Tyrvainen, L., Sievanen, T., Probstl, U., Simpson, M. (2007). Outdoor Recreation and Nature Tourism: A European Perspective. Living Rev. Landscape Res. 1. Retrieved from:


Data Sources

Jefferson County, incorporated municipalities: Direct Request

CDC, Environmental Public Health Tracking Network:

Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG):

US Census, ACS: American Community Survey - American Factfinder:

Click on the logos below to return to the assessment home page. 

Published on July 17, 2018