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Do youth in your community have access to public parks?

By Dylan Kelly

Cloquet parks map
Map of Cloquet parks

Take a moment to think about the natural spaces in your community. Are the spaces open to the public? Where are they located? Who can walk to them?

There is a growing body of research showing that time spent in outdoor green spaces leads to positive social, environmental and health outcomes. However, not all youth have access to public green space in their neighborhoods. It is our responsibility as youth workers to understand how this equity issue affects the communities we serve, and use data to inform our outdoor programming decisions.

One tool available to help guide us is the Trust for Public Land ParkScore index. The ParkScore index is a searchable database that maps communities across the United States, and measures the number of residents who live within a 10 minute walking distance of a public park. The ParkScore report divides the statistics by age, income, and race, allowing a deeper dive into the disparities. It also generates a map, showing which neighborhoods are served by parks, and which are not. Youth workers can use the ParkScore maps and reports to better understand the needs of youth in their communities.

Approximately 50% of youth (ages 0 - 19) live within a 10-minute walk to a public park in Cloquet, Minnesota. The park that serves the most youth is also the smallest. In response to this need, Carlton County 4-H has partnered with Cloquet Community Education to offer outdoor youth programming at a local elementary school. Participants use the green spaces adjacent to their school to explore ecology and the broader environment. This program ensures youth spend time outdoors in natural spaces, even if public natural spaces are hard to find in the neighborhoods where they live.

I encourage you to take a moment and search the Trust for Public Land ParkScore index for cities and towns in your region.

What do you notice about access to parks and public green space in these communities? Were you surprised? Why or why not? How can you use this information to inform your program planning?

-- Dylan Kelly, Extension educator

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  1. Thank you Dylan for sharing this resource. I was suprised to learn that less than 50% of youth in my community live within 10 minutes of a park. I have started asking the youth I program with what they want to do this summer and considering a "park tour" as a component. I grew up in the community I work in and I am still learning where the parks are, which leads me to beleive their is a lack of education in this area. We know that nature is a powerful place for learning and healing.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Courtney! I really like the idea of the "park tour." Parks can be a really great way of developing a positive sense of place and place attachment, not just to the park itself but the broader community.

      If you want to dig a little deeper on the sense of place research, especially as it relates to environmental and community programming, check out Chapter 9 of Marianne Krasny's book Advancing Environmental Education Practice. It's available for free at:

  2. What an interesting and useful resource. As someone who lives in Cloquet, I always thought we had a lot of accessible parks. I'm surprised to learn there are fewer than I thought. Looking at Duluth, I notice that some of our vulnerable and marginalized populations actually have relatively high access (around 80%) to parks. This is an opportunity to bring programming to these parks to help reach an underserved audience. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Katie, thank you for reading and commenting! Yes, I was surprised too to see how broadly served youth are in Duluth. As you search across Minnesota, it turns out that the larger cities' park systems tend to serve a larger portion of the population. 98% of resident in Minneapolis and 99% of residents in St. Paul live within a 10 minute walk of a public park. Often is the smaller towns like Cloquet that have lower percentages.

      That isn't to say that all parks are created equal (e.g. the neighborhoods that can access the lakefront parks in Minneapolis are mostly affluent), but it does show that access is not always predictable based only on urban-suburban-rural dimensions.


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