Rural park spaces need attention, especially in predominantly agricultural areas such as the central United States and Canada. Like urban parks, rural parks often contain the only recreational amenities for rural users. Contrary to common perceptions, rural agricultural areas, while possessing an abundance of outdoor space, offer limited opportunities for quality outdoor recreation because most of the rural landscape is dedicated to the production of industrial agriculture. The leftover public lands house few if any quality recreational amenities that can improve the health outcomes for rural users. Moreover, the recreational facilities that exist are in danger of declining due to rural outmigration and decreasing public funding (Johnson, 2006). Urban parks, on the other hand, have undergone a renaissance in the last thirty years, due in part to the acknowledgment by researchers, philanthropists, and decision-makers that parks play a critical role in the wellbeing of urban users (Mehdi Sadeghian & Vardanyan, 2015). In comparison, rural parks have received a fraction of the attention, due mainly to demographic changes as outmigration continues. This presentation will focus on that discrepancy by first reviewing how research and funding have successfully impacted urban parks. Next, the presentation will discuss the issues that limit rural parks from receiving equal attention, such as the challenge to define degrees of rurality, the changing perceptions of rural users, and the difficulties local decision-makers face when obtaining park funding. Finally, the presentation will suggest a path forward for rural parks, where research attention and quality design can raise awareness, attract funding, and promote long-term rural sustainability.
Hans Klein-Hewett is a licensed landscape architect and an Assistant Professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture. He has teaching expertise in the areas of materials, documentation, and professional practice. His research focus centers on the history and use of America’s parks, with a specific focus on tourism and rural spaces. He is also the chair of the Culture, Land, and Health: Improving the Rural Quality of Life Faculty Learning Community at Iowa State University.