Access to outdoor recreation matters.
When communities have good access to parks, they have greater physical and mental health.1 Parks and open spaces can provide outdoor recreation opportunities. This includes activities for all age groups: soccer and basketball, walking and running, biking, paddling, playing on playgrounds. It may also include less physical activities like birdwatching and picnicking. Just spending time in natural spaces improves mental and physical well-being.2 The quality of a park—how safe it feels, its landscaping, and whether it has amenities like sports fields and bathrooms—all play a role in encouraging people to use it. But without access to these spaces, communities cannot benefit from them. Ideally, everyone should be able to walk to a park in 5 to 10 minutes. That’s about ¼ to ½ mile. People often have to walk longer distances in order to participate in outdoor recreation, though.3
Having adequate outdoor recreation opportunities is important no matter what type of community you live in. Rural areas may have few public parks, but residents are more likely to have access to privately owned land for recreation. In urban communities, on the other hand, private outdoor space is more limited. Therefore public open spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities must be adequately planned and created.
The Wisconsin Outdoor Opportunity map shows places with good access to parks. It also shows areas that may need better access to outdoor recreation opportunities. Urban planners, public health practitioners, and community members can use this map to help make changes in their communities and to improve every Wisconsinite’s access to outdoor recreation.
Tips for using the map
- Click the list icon to retract the legend and view the map.
- Use the plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out. You can also zoom in by double clicking a point on the map.
- The home button will return you to see the state of Wisconsin.
- Click the three lines to show more map options.
- Click the list icon to see the legend again.
- Click the printer icon to see printing options.
- Click the magnifying glass icon to search for a location.
- Follow this link to see the map in its own window.
About the map
The Wisconsin Outdoor Opportunity Map is intended to provide communities across Wisconsin with information to guide policy making, planning, and community advocacy for public outdoor recreation opportunities. The map allows communities to easily identify areas that lack these opportunities and take actions to improve access to these valuable resources. Because public access to individual sites was not verified, the map only represents sites with the potential to provide public outdoor recreation opportunities.
The map measures the walking distance to public parks, schools, and open spaces in communities throughout the state. Walking distance was measured along roads (excluding freeways), trails, and paths from the boundary of the park. Parks, schools, and open space are represented in green. Walking distance from the park boundary is shown in bands at four levels: ¼ mile (yellow), ½ mile (orange), 1 mile (red), and over 1 mile (purple).
Why are some counties gray?
Data is only available for counties that submitted their parks and open space data to the GeoData@Wisconsin database in 2016-2018. Don’t see your county’s data? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to get your county on the map. For more detailed information about our methods, visit this page.
Schools: Why were they included?
Schools can provide a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. School playgrounds, athletic fields and courts, walking and running tracks, and nature areas are all valuable assets to a community. Many schools have shared-use policies with local governments that allow public access to their facilities during non-school hours. You can find out if the schools in your community offer access to the public by contacting the school or local government department responsible for recreation facilities. To learn more about shared use policies in Wisconsin and how to get these policies implemented in your community, visit the Public Health Law Center.
Planners, policymakers, and community members can work towards better outdoor opportunities for all. Improving access to recreation is not always about creating more parks, though that is one important strategy. Planners and policymakers can also:
- Create additional walking and biking paths and trails to parks
- Find and remedy barriers to accessing parks, like busy roadways and cul de sacs with no pedestrian connections
- Plan a connected road network with pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks and safe crossings that lead to parks
- Direct future residential and commercial growth to areas that already have adequate recreation access
When assessing the need for better outdoor opportunities, planners and policymakers should remember that geographic access is only one part of the equation. Park quality, safety, and amenities also need to be considered. Planners and policymakers should ask their community what recreational resources are missing and what barriers exist to using current parks. They can do this via surveys or forums, regular community meetings, or in the process of developing plans.
Plans and Policies
Wisconsin cities, villages, and towns are required to adopt comprehensive plans that guide the development of the built environment.4 Planners can include an analysis of park and recreation access and barriers—as well as strategies for improving access—in their local comprehensive plan. Wisconsin communities may also want to consider creating and updating every five years a Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (CORP). A current CORP makes a community eligible to receive a variety of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants for park and recreation development.5 For guidance in creating your local CORP, see this WiDNR document.
Planners and policymakers can also promote park access through these plans, policies, and processes:
- Create a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan
- Enstate a Parks and Recreation Commission
- Create a Safe Routes to School Plan
- Pass a complete streets, open streets, play streets, and/or shared use policy
The following books and reports are easy-to-read reviews of the health benefits of parks and open spaces:
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Robert Louv
- The Health Benefits of Parks: How Parks Help Keep Americans and their Communities Fit and Healthy by Erica Gies at The Trust for Public Land
The following resources offer guidance to promote better park and recreation access and quality:
- Complete Parks Playbook, ChangeLab Solutions
- Safe Routes to Parks program, National Recreation and Parks Association
- Safe Routes to Parks brief, American Planning Association
- Shared Use Playbook, ChangeLab Solutions
- McCormack GR, Rock M, Toohey AM, Hignell D. Characteristics of urban parks associated with park use and physical activity: A review of qualitative research. Health & Place. 2010;16(4):712-726. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.03.003
- Townsend M, Henderson-Wilson C. Greening the city: The health evidence of urban nature. In: Leeuw E de, Simos J, eds. Healthy Cities: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Value-Based Urban Planning. New York, NY: Springer; 2017:375-389.
- Yang Y, Diez-Roux AV. Walking distance by trip purpose and population subgroups. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;43(1):11-19. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.03.015
- Wis. Stat. § 66.1001. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/66/X/1001
- Wis. Admin. Code § NR 51. http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/nr/001/51.pdf