City of Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey – Observations by Don Bruns of Littleton

“Don worked nearly 45 years of public service in recreation and scenery management, doing planning, environmental reporting, training, and program administration.  Among the things that made his job meaningfully worthwhile was being able to engage with pragmatic-minded recreation, leisure and behavioral scientists to help advance state-of-the-art recreation science beyond facility and program management that simply accommodates “fun and games.”  Here in the US, and sometimes internationally, Don had the privilege of helping several parks and recreation agencies and organizations learn how to optimize public recreation benefits by assessing the kinds of benefits that people want from open-space, wild lands and parklands, and then structuring both setting and service environments on which positive outcomes depend to match up with the desires of publics being served.”



City of Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey

There are at least four primary levels at which recreation planning occurs:

1 – Strategic or Master Planning

2 – Land Use or Resource Allocation Planning

3 – Project Plans (e.g., parks, greenways, playgrounds, etc.)

4 – Site Plans

The subject survey title indicates that its intent is to inform master plan development. Survey content however omits several critically important elements needed to ensure that study results adequately inform all of elements of recreation production to ensure that the resulting plan is both responsive to the desires of those being served and that it will ensure positive re-creating results to affected individuals, households and communities (socially and economically), and the environment.

The survey appears to focus primarily on programs and facilities. The following simplified schematic illustrates where those components fit relative other recreation product components. These are, in turn, outlined above an essential context for both useable customer assessments and responsive parkland/open space management and recreation service delivery.

Optimizing Parks, Open Space & Recreation Benefits-2



The above schematic illustrates the implications of Aldo Leopold’s well-known dictum, applied to Parks, Recreation and Trails Management: “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces.”

  1. Implications for how recreation products are produced and their benefits realized are several:


  • Getting to the goal of parks and recreation management—the achievement of desired palettes of beneficial recreation outcomes (to both affected participants and non-participants alike)—providers must know not only what those end results are but also the setting character and service delivery conditions on which they depend.
  • Those cause-and-effect interrelationships cannot be determined without consulting with each of the discrete affected publics being served, because:
  1. a) Planners cannot know these cause-and-effect interrelationships without assessing what those they intend to serve believe they are, and
  1. b) There are multiple desires for some complementary and some conflicting end-results (and therefore differing setting and service environments on which they depend) in each parkland, open-space and recreation area.
  • Strategic or master planning may not need to have assessment results for all of these components for every single parkland and open-space attraction (because public recreation preferences are strongly place-based), but neither can it simply focus on programs and facilities as if those were the only recreation product components valued by the people being served.
  • There must instead be an understanding of:
  1. a) What both residents and visitors to be served want out of park and open space properties:

i – For both on-site and off-site use and enjoyment (i.e., beneficial outcomes) and

ii – For the negative end-results (i.e., adverse outcomes) they want to avoid.

  1. b) Character conditions of both park and open-space settings and the service delivery systems on which they depend (because some desired outcomes are setting dependent, others service dependent and some both).
  • The scope of master planning recreation service delivery must therefore be broader than services provided by the managing entities of parks and open-space properties (including trails) because affected participants and non-participants also depend on other service delivery providers to achieve their desired benefits and to avoid adverse impacts.
  1. Implications of the Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey structure are several:
  • The survey’s response index for listed recreation facilities and programs addresses only two dimensions: a) degree of importance respondents wanted to assign and b) degree to which respondents believe the needs of Littleton (never defined) are being met.
  • Although the survey mentions Littleton’s needs, it makes no attempt to identify what those are in terms of specific kinds of recreation outcomes: to individuals, to households and communities, to economies, and to the environment. This is very significant.
  • Equally so is the survey’s omission of:
  1. a) Respondent desires for any physical (bio and cultural), social and administrative setting character attributes of the city’s various parkland and open-space properties.
  1. b) Respondent desires for other important service attributes (besides facilities and programs, including the provision and maintenance of desired parkland and open-space character) of the city’s recreation and open-space amenities were not assessed.
  • The survey does not appear to assess the specific kinds of re-creating outcomes desired by participants and non-participants alike from the city’s various parkland and open-space properties.
  • In a nationwide study, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) demonstrated that Americans significantly benefit from parks in their community, even if they do not use them. Nonetheless, the survey makes no effort to:
  1. a) Identify what those benefits are—which from anecdotal reports—to be substantial for Littleton’s citizens as well as for visitors.
  1. b) Differentiate between the responses of users and non-users.
  1. c) Address the ways that parkland and open-space benefits users and non-users absent any particular services and/or programs. This is very important because significant benefits are being provided and achieved irrespective of any programs or facilities by virtue of the aesthetic and cultural characteristics of the cities various parkland and open-space properties. If this is true, then SSP&R must also be managing the parkland and open-space characteristics: physically (both bio and cultural), socially and administratively.
  • The survey appears to ignore assessing public desires for recreation product components related to any of the three priorities that the NRPA study lists for local park and recreation agencies:
  1. a) Conservation
  2. b) Health and Wellness
  3. c) Social Equity
  • In order to meet these priorities, it would appear that master planners would need to know both participant and non-participant citizen and visitor desires for:
  1. a) Recreation benefits associated with each of the three priorities,
  1. b) Character qualities of the physical, social and administrative setting attributes on which those benefits depend and
  1. c) Character of the various recreation services (i.e., facilities, programs, and park/open-space management) on which those benefits depend—and to what degree.
  • The four geographic assessment areas of the city included in the survey, apparently for the purpose of disaggregating study results, are insufficient to capture the socio-demographic diversity of Littleton residents because the people within each do not share a similar set of recreation desires and preferences.
  • Similarly, state-of-the-art recreation science makes it highly unlikely that public recreation product desires are the same:
  1. a) Between and among participants and non-participants
  2. b) Between and among residents and non-residents, and
  3. c) For each of the city’s various kinds of parkland, open-space, and other recreation properties.

Yet the survey does not appear to be structured in a way that enables respondents to indicate for which of these variables they are responding.

  • That deficiency is critically important because assessment context means everything. By failing to differentiate by these and other important socio-demographic variables, this survey’s collapsed assessment context—like others that do the same thing—puts very dissimilar respondents into single categories and ends up painting an entirely different picture than what actually exists.
  • If the economic benefits of Littleton’s various parkland and open-space attractions are to be addressed in the master planning process, it appears that the survey should also have been administered to visitors who benefit from them (e.g., substantial benefits are achieved by visiting cyclists on the Mary Carter Greenway, and substantial benefits could be achieved by other visitors if access were to be provided to the city’s outstanding flat-water recreation resources).

Don Bruns


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