Youth & Parks: Getting Outdoors Close to Home

Learning how youth think about and enjoy nature in regional parks

Five people jumping.Young people’s access to the regional parks system is crucial to reach the goals of the 2040 Regional Parks Policy Plan. Parks and open space offer young people multiple health and recreational benefits. And the regional parks system depends on ongoing public support: today’s youth will build current and future advocacy to preserve high quality natural resources.

Our youth and parks research was designed to share insights from a 2019 collaboration among a multigenerational Met Council research team, regional park agencies, and youth researchers, youth participants, and supportive adults from youth-serving organizations. The study answers questions such as:

  1. What are obstacles to youth access and what changes can improve access?
  2. What activities or amenities make a great day in the park for youth?
  3. What advice/assets do youth have as they connect with the outdoors?
  4. How can park agencies build connections to encourage youth to visit parks?

Key findings

  • Major obstacles to youth park visitation are awareness, safety, park lack of cultural competency, racist encounters in parks, lack of opportunity to learn skills, economic hardship, and busy youth lives.

  • There is no such thing as an inexperienced park user. Listen to the experiences youth draw on as they approach their park visit.

  • Youth want to learn new skills and try new activities, including swimming, winter sports, and camping.

  • Youth have great ideas about how to promote parks and want to collaborate in planning programming.

  • Youth want to learn more about broader social and cultural histories connected with parks.

  • Parks can remove obstacles and build the youth-park connection through partnerships with constituent-led organizations, investing in staff and staff development, and expanding cultural competency and programming.

  • The Met Council can support youth access to parks through continued funding for collaboration with implementing agencies, hiring and retention of a diverse staff, funding to fill research gaps, and continued attention to transportation issues.

Rationale for the study

The 2040 Regional Parks Policy Plan notes that involvement in nature-based outdoor recreation among young adults and their children has decreased since the 1990s. Their support is needed for maintaining broad-based public support for park and trail investments. The plan also notes that “By 2040, 39% of the population will be people of color, compared to 24% in 2010. The share of people of color increases among younger age groups; 53% of residents younger than age 18 will be people of color in 2040.” As a result, connecting youth to the outdoors is essential to achieve the equitable outcomes required in Met Council regional plans.

In 2018, the Met Council pledged in the parks policy plan to engage in “targeted studies to better understand and provide for the outdoor recreational needs and preferences” of underserved populations, including youth. To date, no study has been conducted that informs policy about the needs, motivations, and use barriers for youth to access the regional park system.