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ParkRx: Needs Assessment

Posted By Diquan Edmonds, North Carolina Recreation and Park Association, Monday, January 9, 2017

January 9th, 2017


 The National ParkRx Initiative recently hosted a three-part webinar series about creating and sustaining park prescription programs in your department. I recently attended Part II: Needs Assessment of this series and found the information extremely interesting. Today’s wellness blog will detail some of what I learned from attending this webinar.

In case you are unfamiliar with park prescription programs, I want to first cover the basics. According to the National Park Rx Initiative, “Park prescriptions are programs designed in collaboration with public land agencies, healthcare providers, and community partners to encourage people to utilize parks, trails, and open space for the purpose of improving individual and community health.”

To create and strengthen ParkRx programs, a needs assessment is necessary.  This assessment allows for proper development of Park Prescription programs that fit community resources and needs. Once the needs assessment is completed, goals and objectives of your program can be tailored to fit the identified needs. Information found in the needs assessment can also be used to educate the public and ParkRx partners about your department's features.

As a part of the needs assessment, community trails and parks should be assessed. The National Park Service developed a useful Prescription Trails Assessment Worksheet to be used when assessing trails. This assessment details infrastructure such as trail parking, accessibility, surfaces, resting areas and more. When an assessment like this one is completed, it allows your department to recognize areas that could be strengthened, as well as areas to advertise to participants.

Community parks also need to be properly assessed to develop park prescription programs. For this assessment, a method similar to the prescription trails assessment worksheet is used. The Community Park Audit Tool was developed by Active Living Research and takes inventory on important metrics in your parks. This form asks a series of questions regarding your park with check boxes to select applicable information.

Community health assessment is also required in order to strengthen Park Rx programs. To accomplish this, the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) is recommended. SOPARC is an assessment system  designed to “obtain direct information on community park use, including relevant concurrent characteristics of parks and their users.” This assessment gathers information regarding park users physical activity levels, activity types, and basic demographics.  

SOPARC is conducted using momentary time sampling techniques. Data collectors head out to parks at specific times during the day and use these worksheets to record what park participants are doing. Activity level is determined and jotted down in the appropriate space. For example, if the park user is lying down in a hammock, they would receive a mark of “S” for sedentary. Vice versa, if an individual is jogging or playing a game of basketball, they would receive a mark of “V” for vigorous. The category walking or “W” is in the middle, meaning the individual is walking at a casual pace.

To learn more about SOPARC and how it accurately measures community health in parks, please click this link. It’s a great resource with some important information on collection methods, observation periods, and more.

I hope that you find the information in this blog to be useful!  If you want to learn more about Park Prescriptions, please check out my write up of  Part One: Partnership of this series at this link. Be on the lookout for my post on part three of this series in the coming weeks!

If your department has or is planning to start a park prescription program, I would love to find out more information. Please email me at to share!

Until next time,


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