Many Americans are fascinated with the television show “Parks and Recreation.” This might bring up the question in a person’s mind about whether or not their local recreation center is something special. With a little bit of help from history and a national program geared toward creating the finest facilities in the United States, some interesting historic facts behind the best recreation facilities in America are revealed.
How recreation centers are defined
In America, you are more likely to find information about the history of community centers alongside histories of recreation facilities — but they are not the same thing. Nevertheless, it often appears that community centers, recreation facilities and clubs have always had overlapping definitions when they are defined.Typically, recreation denotes physical activity and community centers are places that people have meetings concerning public space issues. In addition, there is the idea of having a club where meetings lead to activities decided upon by the group.
Many of the activities you will see in modern public recreation centers are yoga, camping organizing, bird watching classes, after-school physical activity programs for children, swimming instruction or practice, weight training, baseball, summer camps, basketball, and aerobics for older adults. Regardless, the recent origins of many recreation centers in America are closely tied to minority and religious communities.
Recent history of US recreation centers
Searching for the oldest recreation center is a difficult task, but careful research returns some interesting trivia results. For instance, it could be said that the founding of the YMCA in Boston in 1851 was a historic first. On the other hand, trying to find the exact historic fact about the very first rec center in the US is an impossible goal. When you flip through the pages of history, what you will see, by and large, is a rise in various ethnic communities starting up recreation centers around 1916.
Part of the reason many minorities may have opened community centers was due to the increased racial tension in America at that time. For example, the 1915 movie called “Birth of a Nation” (previously called “The Clansman”) stoked the flames for hundreds of Black men to be lynched throughout the Southern United States from 1915 through the 1920’s. Other groups that were targeted by racists were Jews and Catholics.
The WPA takes on recreation center goal
Outside of the racially-motivated American recreation center theme that emerged in the early 1900’s, recreation centers were built at record rates starting in the 1930’s. The American movement for public, non-ethnic-based or religious-based recreation centers is heavily associated with the New Deal Work Projects Administration (WPA) created by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s. From that time forward, you see American tax dollars being invested in public places where all Americans are welcome to participate in physical activity.
Award-winning American recreation centers
What is an award-winning rec center? Throughout America, this question is answered through state programs based on the National Recreation and Parks Administration. The NPRA gives a Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management. State recreation centers mimic this award with one of their own. Each year, the national finalist winners are announced at the NRPA website. Other awards for recreation centers issued by the NRPA are the National Awards, Robert W Crawford Hall of Fame and the NRPA Scholarships and Fellowships.
Listed below, the 2014 recreation center winners of various “best of” NRPA awards are:
NRPA 2013 National Awards
Excellence in Inclusion Award: Northwest Special Recreation Association, Rolling Meadows, Illinois
Excellence in Innovative Programming Award: San Antonio Parks & Recreation, Texas
Facility or Park Design Award: Smale Riverfront Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
Barb King Environmental Stewardship Award: McHenry County Conservation District, Woodstock, Illinois
Kudos Marketing Award: BREC, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
National Partnership Award: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Pennsylvania
NRPA 2014 Gold Medal Finalists
Class I (population 400,001 and over): Chicago Park District, Illinois; Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation, Georgia; Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Maryland; Mesa Parks, Recreation and Commercial Facilities, Arizona
Class II (population 150,001 – 400,000): Arlington Parks and Recreation, Texas; Bakersfield Recreation and Parks, California; Henderson Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Nevada; Plano Parks and Recreation, Texas
Class III (population 75,001 – 150,000): Allen Parks and Recreation, Texas; Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, Indiana; Roswell Recreation, Parks, Historic & Cultural Affairs, Georgia; St. George Leisure Services, Utah
Class IV (population 30,001 – 75,000): Carol Stream Park District, Illinois; Eau Claire Parks, Recreation & Forestry, Wisconsin; Kettering Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts, Ohio; Willamalane Parks & Recreation District, Illinois
Class V (population less than 30,000): Frankfort Square Park District, Illinois; Lafayette Recreation Department, Colorado; Middleton Public Lands, Recreation & Forestry, Wisconsin; Oak Brook Park District, Illinois
Armed Forces Recreation: Fort Carson, Colorado; Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, California; Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia