Access to outdoor recreation matters.

When communities have good access to parks, they have greater physical and mental health.1 Parks and open spaces provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. This includes activities like soccer and basketball, walking and running, biking, paddling, and playing on playgrounds. It may also include less physical activities like birdwatching and picnicking. 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. They often have to walk longer distances in order to participate in outdoor recreation, though.2

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

  • 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 icons in the top right corner to expand and retract the sidebar
  • Click the list icon to see the legend
  • Click the printer icon to see printing options
  • Click the magnifying glass icon to search for a location


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 in their communities. 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 the 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).

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 wihealthatlas@hslc.wisc.edu to learn how to get your county on the map. For more detailed information about our methods, visit this page.


Urban vs. Rural Communities: What are the differences?

Having adequate outdoor recreation opportunities is important no matter what type of community you live in. The more rural areas may appear to have less access because the spaces they use for outdoor recreation are on privately owned land where access to these opportunities is often available right in their backyards or more informal spaces. 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.


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 these facilities during non-school hours. You can find out if the schools in your area 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.


Taking Action

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. 3 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. 4 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
  • Instate 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


Resources

The following resources offer guidance to promote better park and recreation access and quality:



References

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Wis. Stat. § 66.1001. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/66/X/1001
  4. Wis. Admin. Code § NR 51. http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/nr/001/51.pdf