For those who love being outdoors, appreciate nature, and enjoy coordinating programs for large groups, a career in parks and recreation might be a great fit. From managing a local community center to overseeing a state or national park, this career path includes a wide variety of opportunities. At a local level, the parks and recreation manager works with the city manager to direct the parks and recreational activities for the city. Parks require specific oversight such as equipment maintenance, landscaping upkeep, and safety regulations. Recreational activities might include sports leagues, day camps, or national holiday celebrations, all of which require staffing and scheduling to run effectively.
A Day in the Life of a Parks and Recreation Manager
The day-to-day responsibilities of a parks and recreation manager may include:
Creating and establishing a variety of programs and activities targeted for a specific population or community (children, seniors, families, athletes, campers, etc.)
Supervising, training, and hiring staff members
Ensuring that current and future operations can be accomplished within the established budget
Building rapport with the community and promoting activities and events
Overseeing maintenance and service concerns
Additionally, meeting with the city manager is often necessary to discuss funding, expansion, or collaborative efforts.
The salary range for parks and recreation managers varies greatly, depending on the specific title of the position (director, manager, coordinator, or supervisor), the scope of responsibility, a job candidate’s work experience, and any budgetary restrictions that may exist. According to PayScale.com, the median salary is slightly over $50,000 for a director-level position. Employers usually offer standard benefits packages.
A range of undergraduate degrees could be applied to this field, including science and social science, criminal justice, or wildlife management, as well as a parks and recreation management degree. A Master of Public Administration (MPA) would greatly improve the employment prospects for a job in parks and recreation, especially in combination with professional experience in the field. An MPA prepares students specifically for a career in public service. While experience in recreation is typically a prerequisite for a management position, an MPA will help candidates develop the leadership skills necessary to coordinate with other departments and communicate with the public.
Some organizations also require recreation managers to obtain certification from the National Recreation and Park Association. To remain current, this certification requires continued education.
Challenges and Opportunities
One of the biggest challenges parks and recreation managers often deal with is inadequate funding. When budgets are renegotiated during economic downturns, recreation is often viewed as a “non-essential” line item. Managers are then expected to maintain property and facilities with fewer staff and/or outdated equipment. Managers who focus on parks—whether local, state, or national—may also face the challenge of fending off developers who seek to use the land for business or retail purposes.
However, significant opportunities exist too. The population of seniors and children, who are the most frequent participants in local recreation programs, continues to grow. As this demographic grows, the demand for recreational activities will follow. Making a positive difference within the community also contributes to the job satisfaction of parks and recreation managers. A growing commitment to the environment within the United States also bodes well for the future of park systems everywhere.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of recreation workers will grow 14 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is the average employment growth rate. A renewed focus on eliminating childhood obesity will likely create a greater demand for physical activities geared toward children. That trend points to steady employment for parks and recreation managers. However, budget restrictions may limit the number of new positions that can be added.
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