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City Manager's Blog

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Jun 25

The Economy of Parks & Recreation

Posted on June 25, 2018 at 1:44 PM by Whitney Slightham

City of Roanoke Carvins Cove Natural Reserve
Carvins Cove Natural Reserve, the City's largest park, spans more than 12,000 acres and offers 60 miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. This is the view from the Appalachian Trail.

We all love parks – we recognize their contribution to our quality of life, our health and well-being, and how they help protect our environment.  Increasingly the role that parks and recreation play in economic growth is being appreciated.  Here in Roanoke, a large portion of our efforts at branding ourselves—for those who might be convinced to stay here after graduation, visit here, or start a business here—is oriented around parks and recreation.  Further, events like the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon and GO Outside Festival celebrate the recreation opportunities that abound in our area and also directly contribute financially to our local economy.

Stand-up paddleboard on the Roanoke River
Stand-up paddleboarders enjoying the Roanoke River.


21st Century Economy

It has often been stated here locally by leadership at the Roanoke Regional Partnership that talent is the currency of the 21st Century Economy.  If that is indeed the case, then place-making and quality of life represent the framework for nurturing talent development and attraction.  In our area, we have focused on our many neighborhoods, village centers, and downtown for the bulk of our place-making efforts and we have focused on the outdoors and recreation for much of our efforts at enhancing the quality of life.

I recently had the opportunity to review a study prepared by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis for the National Recreation and Park Association entitled Promoting Parks and Recreation’s Role in Economic Development. Among its many findings, this study notes:

  • Parks and recreation is an engine of substantial economic activities in communities
  • Quality-of-life considerations play a supporting role in site-location decisions
  • Parks and recreation agencies contribute to the economic development process
  • Greater recognition of the role and value parks and recreation plays in local economies is warranted and necessary

The report features an interesting case study of the efforts here in the Roanoke area associated with the Roanoke Outside effort led by the Roanoke Regional Partnership.  This case study is one of more than a dozen similar efforts featured from around the Nation.


Children gardening in Roanoke's After School Recreation Program
Summer day camp offered by Roanoke Parks and Recreation.


Recognizing and Valuing an Asset

Among the many points noted in the referenced NRPA study, perhaps most importantly the study acknowledges that, while increasingly it is recognized that strong parks and recreation departments generate significant direct and indirect economic impacts through employment and spending, they are quite often the first place where budget reductions are made in times of budget austerity.  Increasingly the value of parks and recreation is being recognized by business and community leaders.  Locally many have come together to promote what we have – a very valuable asset.  We must continue to care for what we have, nurture new opportunities, and seek new partnerships to ensure our regional environment, our local parks and our recreation offerings continue to add value to our daily lives and contribute to our economic growth and success. 

You have the opportunity to play a direct role in shaping the future of our parks and recreation program.  The City of Roanoke is currently in the process of updating its parks and recreation master plan and we are soliciting your thoughts, ideas and comments about both current and future parks and recreation offerings in the City.  I encourage you to join in the discussion and ensure that these values continue to contribute to what makes Roanoke such a special place to live, work and play!

- Bob Cowell

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