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Tulsa, Oklahoma and the case for supporting disc golf in public parks

We’re pleased to publish this guest post by Josh Woods on Disc Golf and Tulsa. Tulsa currently has the most disc golf course per 100,000 according to the Trust for Public Land’s annual City Park Facts. Do you have research on city parks, park amenities or city park trends that you’d like to share, please write us at ccpe@tpl.org.

By Josh Woods

Author bio: Josh Woods is an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University and the creator of Parked: A Disc Golf Think Tank

In August 2005, a young Devan Owens embarked on an unlikely journey. He left his home near Tulsa, Oklahoma and traveled nearly a thousand miles to Flagstaff, Arizona for the Amateur Disc Golf World Championships. Owens was sixteen years old, a precocious lefthanded thrower with a great sidearm and big dreams.

Devan Owens Putt by Frisbeenet

Devan Owens (from frisbeenet)

With only one year of disc golf experience, he won the tournament in his age division and became an amateur world champion. In the next years, Owens dedicated himself to disc golf, developed into a successful touring professional, attracted sponsorships, took on leadership roles in the disc golf community at the local and state levels, and collected 39 tournament wins by spring 2017.

Although this may seem like an obscure sports story, anyone who cares about the future of public parks should take notice. There is an important, symbiotic relationship between disc golfers and public parks. On one hand, disc golfers like Owens depend greatly on the availability of public urban land and the support of parks and recreation departments. On the other hand, city parks benefit from local disc golfers who donate their time, labor and money to the construction and maintenance of public disc golf courses.

In a recent interview, when asked about the origin of his disc golf success, Owens acknowledged the roles of public parks and his disc golf community in Tulsa. “There’s lots going on in the Tulsa disc golf scene,” he said. “We have a couple clubs running tournaments and leagues all year around. You can play organized disc golf almost every day of the week.”

Owens identified the Tulsa Disc Sports Association (TDSA) as the main organizer in the area. He spoke highly of its leaders, credited the TDSA for developing strong relationships with Tulsa city officials, and detailed the TDSA’s large donations of money and labor for the construction and maintenance of area disc golf courses.

“This is going to blow your mind,” he said. “Almost all the disc golf courses in Tulsa were paid for and installed by the TDSA. The association has a long history. Since the 1980s, the generations have come through, running leagues, collecting small fees, organizing fundraisers, setting up work days and trash pickups. The courses are in the ground today because disc golfers of the past gave their time, money and sweat.”

Disc golf appears to be more popular in Tulsa than in any other major city in the country. The Tulsa Disc Golf Facebook group has more than 3,000 members. According to a study based on a random sample of 100 disc golf groups on Facebook, the mean group size is 174 members. Very few disc golf communities in the nation can rival the social media presence of Tulsa disc golf.

According to the 2017 City Park Facts Report, released last month, Tulsa is first in the country in public disc golf courses per capita.[1] As shown in Table 1, the TDSA has outbuilt the vibrant communities in Charlotte, Orlando and Kansas City. Part of this success should be attributed to the availability of public park land. Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, Tulsa ranks twenty-fourth based on the total number of parks, and tenth in park acres per 1,000 residents.

 

Table 1: Top Ten Cities Based on Public Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents[2]

City Population Public Park Spending per Resident (Adjusted) Total Disc Golf Courses Disc Golf Courses per 100,000 Residents
Tulsa  411,880 $60 7 1.7
Durham  257,245 $69 4 1.6
Lexington  312,390 $85 4 1.3
Charlotte  862,069 $43 14 1.3
Orlando  272,010 $119 3 1.1
Fort Wayne  261,136 $102 3 1.1
Cincinnati  304,833 $244 3 1.0
Kansas City  479,367 $128 5 1.0
Anchorage  305,439 $92 3 1.0
Richmond  222,071 $77 2 0.9

While the green space is there, the public funding is not. Tulsa ranks seventy-fourth in spending on public parks, per the 2017 City Park Facts Report. Out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 73 spend more money per resident on public parks than Tulsa. It appears that the TDSA builds disc golf courses “the old-fashioned way … they earn it.” Charlotte, North Carolina also has a notably low level of public funding and a high number of disc courses per 100,000 residents.

Most of Tulsa’s seven public courses have concrete tee pads and appear to be well maintained. Located in Mohawk Park, the Black Hawk, a wooded course with tight, yet reasonable fairways, plenty of distance, and at least three water holes, should be on every disc golfer’s bucket list. There’s a second course, the Red Hawk, within the same complex, making it a desirable destination for disc golfers of all skill levels.

“The Black Hawk is the most challenging course in the area,” Owens said. “It would definitely eat up the beginner, but the Red Hawk has a front nine that’s fairly short and open. One thing I like about this place is the Tulsa Zoo in Mohawk Park. It’s cool to be playing disc golf and hear the monkeys and elephants and gorillas going off.”

Tulsa disc golfers are generous supporters of the broader community. Led by the TDSA, Tulsa’s Ice Bowl, a nationwide disc golf charity event played in the dead of winter, has broken records for attendance, and donated tens of thousands of dollars to the community food back. More than 240 people took part in the 2016 Tulsa Ice Bowl.

PDGA Members

When pressed to identify the secret of Tulsa’s success, Owens said, “You know, the only thing I can think of is the people. When they get involved with the TDSA, they realize they’re part of it. They help put in a disc golf course. They help move a basket, or install a new tee pad, or show up for a long workday, and when they do, they become attached to the course forever … that’s the secret sauce.”

The “secret sauce” of Tulsa disc golf exemplifies the spirit of the public land movement in the United States. The generous volunteerism of disc golf communities across the country has led to new disc golf courses in thousands of public parks across the country. The number of public disc golf courses far exceeds the number of publicly owned ball golf courses. And while the popularity of ball golf continues to decline, disc golf is on the rise.

In the 1980s, there were about twenty-five new disc golf courses built each year; by the 1990s, roughly 100 courses were established annually, and between 2007 and 2010, the annual growth rate reached 200 each year.[3] There are now 5,467 disc golf courses in the U.S., and roughly 90 percent of these courses are in public parks.[4]

Other indicators are showing the same explosive growth trend. As shown in the figure below, over a six-year period, between 2006 and 2012, there was a fixed, year-to-year increase in the number of active members of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) of about eight percent. Then, in 2013, the number of members jumped by 13 percent, followed by a 19 percent increase in 2014, a 25 percent gain in 2015, and a 17 percent uptick in 2016, when the total number of members stood at 35,662 worldwide, and 30,454 in the United States.[5]

[1] The 2017 City Parks Facts Report is published by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. The data in this report are generated through “a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with the Center to submit their data.” The information on disc golf course locations may differ from the PDGA’s figures. The data on disc golf courses by city only include those courses located in public parks within the given municipality, not the metropolitan region. A “public park” refers to publicly owned and operated parks within the city limits.

[2] See the 2017 City Park Facts Report.

[3] Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[4] For the course count, see the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf; for the public course estimate, see Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

[5] See the 2016 PDGA Year End Demographics at http://www.pdga.com/files/2016_yr_end.pdf.

City park facts: spending for public parks, part 1

2017-CPE-Spending

Part of our annual City Park Facts report focuses on spending in public parks in the 100 largest US cities. This includes park agency spending on parks and recreation specifically at the city, county, state, and federal level, as applicable in a given city.

Total spending* reported in our 2017 report is $7.09 Billion, which is up slightly from $7.07 Billion in 2016. Based on the population of the 100 largest cities (currently 63.57 Million or about 20 percent of the population of the US) this works out to $76 per person in our 100 largest US cities.

*It is important to note that the spending total doesn’t include other maintenance and operation expenses that parks and recreation agencies might be responsible for, including cultural institutions, maintaining rights-of-way or street trees. Further, it is only public agencies, no non-profit conservancy or foundation totals are included.  We’ll cover the scope and role of non-profit parks foundations, conservancies and friends groups in a future post. A good source of additional information is our 2015 Report: “Public Parks, Private Money: The Triumphs and Pitfalls of Urban Park Conservancies.”

The bulk of spending in parks (just under 75 percent in this year’s report) in the 100 largest US cities is for operation and maintenance – often called O & M. O & M includes everything from lawn mowing, to bills for water, heating and air conditioning, keeping pool and fountain systems working and painting the lines on playing fields. It also includes all programmatic spending, from running recreation programs to hiring and managing life guards and running swimming classes.

The remaining 25 percent of the budget is capital spending, which covers the replacement of existing facilities, like a playground, playing field or recreation center or construction of a new facility. Generally, city parks departments have both capital and operating and maintenance budgets and they are approved by elected city officials separately and come from separate funding sources.

The challenge for many city, state and federal parks agencies is in the operation and maintenance categories. For many years the approach, when revenues are down or declining, is to defer or delay maintenance. Over time, if budgets are increased to previous levels, deferred maintenance can easily lead to capital replacement costs.

Primarily, O & M funding comes from general revenue sources in our cities.  This is primarily property and sales tax receipts. There are lots of competing interests for these general revenue dollars and the top of the list is usually public safety (fire, police and ems) and a close second is public schools. Depending on the state that a given city is located in, there may be fewer general revenue dollars coming into a given city with a higher need from the public safety agencies. Further, there may be additional demands on that local pool of funds given that fewer contributions have been coming to cities through state or federal programs, which have been generally shrinking, in the past 20 plus years.

There is also stiff competition for capital dollars. Capital expenditures in our largest US cities focus primarily on infrastructure: ranging from bridges and roads to fire stations and yes, parks. And infrastructure spending remains very low in the US.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes a report every four years on the state of infrastructure in the US and in 2017, they give Public Parks & Recreation a D+.

Depending on which state a city is located in there are a range of methods for raising capital money. The most common is through municipal bonds, in which the city borrows against its bond rating for money that it pays back at a low interest rate. Bonds can be authorized through a public vote of a city’s citizens or in some cases, through a vote of its city council. The Trust for Public Land has worked on hundreds of campaigns for bond elections, much of which is documented in our website, LandVote.

We’ll continue this topic in a future post focusing on public/private partnerships with non-profit foundations and conservancies.

You can download the 2017 City Park Facts report for free on the Trust for Public Land website.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people.

Questions, comments or ideas: Contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.

City park facts: Parks per 10,000 residents by city

If you are familiar with the work for the Trust for Public Land and the Center for City Park Excellence, you know that we focus a lot on the percentage of a city’s population that is within a 10-minute walk to a park.  We highlight this in Parkscore, the 2017 results will be announced on May 24th.

Prior to the introduction of Parkscore five years ago, we focused instead on parks per 1,000 residents by city or parks acreage per 10,000 residents by city, as well as variations with daytime occupants. We’ll share these in the next few posts, but you can find all of the information by downloading the 2017 edition of City Park Facts.

Here are the top 25 cities with the most parks per 10,000 residents by city:

  1. Madison: 282 parks or 11.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  2. Arlington, VA: 210 parks or 9.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  3. Cincinnati: 272 parks or 8.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  4. Atlanta: 405 parks or 8.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  5. St. Petersburg: 218 parks or 8.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  6. Las Vegas: 512 parks or 8.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  7. Buffalo: 208 parks or 8.0 parks per 10,000 residents.
  8. St. Paul: 223 parks or 7.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  9. Anchorage: 228 parks or 7.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  10. Pittsburgh: 214 parks or 6.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  11. Norfolk: 168 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  12. Seattle: 457 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  13. Lincoln: 188 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  14. Baltimore: 421 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  15. Virgina Beach: 298 parks or 6.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  16. Boston: 419 parks or 6.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  17. Greensboro: 178 parks or 6.3 parks per 10,000 residents.
  18. Corpus Christi: 203 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  19. Washington, DC: 409 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  20. New Orleans: 239 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  21. Boise: 133 parks or 6.0 parks per 10,000 residents.
  22. Denver: 384 parks or 5.7 parks per 10,000 residents.
  23. Omaha: 248 parks or 5.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  24. Portland, OR: 334 parks or 5.4 parks per 10,000 residents.
  25. Tampa: 192 parks or 5.3 parks per 10,000 residents.

Questions, comments? email us at ccpe@tpl.org

How many acres of parks are there in the 100 largest US cities?

We’re glad you asked!  There are over two2 million acres of parkland in the 100 largest cities, which collectively contain twenty percent of the population of the United States.

2017-CPF-acreage

Further, these one hundred cities combined have a total of 11,455,651 acres, which means that the 2,055,324 acres of parks are 5.57 percent of the total acreage of those one hundred cities.

In the new 2017 City Park Facts report, we look at parkland in a number of ways, including:

  • Parkland by city and agency (pp. 4-10)
  • Parkland as a percentage of adjusted city area (p. 11)
  • Parkland per 1,000 residents by city (p. 12)
  • Parkland per 1,000 daytime occupants by city (p. 13)
  • Parks per 10,000 residents by city (p 14)

You can download this report for free on the Trust for Public Land website.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.

The Importance of volunteers in parks, continued.

By Charlie McCabe

Last week, as part of our press release for the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, we touted a number of examples covering the growing role and importance of volunteers in parks in the 100 largest US city park systems. Given that we’re nearing the end of National Volunteer Week (Apr 23-29), we wanted to add another post in what will be an ongoing series on volunteers working in parks.

IMG_7411

Volunteers planning bulbs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston

Today, we’ll take a quick look at how park conservancies are working with volunteers. As part of a master’s thesis in 2016, I looked at what were the best practices of organizing and managing a volunteer program. I studied nine different parks conservancies in Austin, Boston, Brooklyn and Houston. I found a number of common practices and methods used, which we’ll cover in a future set of posts.  But, like our findings on the impact of volunteer in our 100 largest US cities, I found substantial impact for these nine park conservancies.

First, it’s very important to stress that all of these organizations work in partnership with their local park agencies to achieve mutual goals. As Doreen Stoller, Executive Director of the Hermann Park Conservancy noted in our 2015 publication, Public Parks/Private Money: “the City of Houston has allowed Hermann Park Conservancy to perform many duties on its behalf. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that our work is ‘on its behalf.’”

So, what’s the impact?  I looked at five years worth of data from each of the park conservancies.  The results are impressive.

  • In 2012, 12,250 volunteers donated 44,668 hours worth $1.04M or 21.47 FTEs
  • in 2013, 16,836 volunteers donated 49,767 hours worth $1.21M or 23.9 FTEs
  • In 2014, 15,426 volunteers donated 53,688 hours worth $1.34M or 25.81 FTEs
  • In 2015, 16,098 volunteers donated 59,461 hours worth $1.55M or 28.58 FTEs
  • In 2016, 18,727 volunteers donated 67,541 hours worth $1.75M or 32.47 FTEs

Overall, during the five year period, 79,337 volunteers donated 275,125 hours worth $6.9M.

(The value of hours is calculated using data collected by Independent Sector, a non-profit that calculates the annual hourly value of donated labor by state. FTE stands for full-time equivalent or one person working fulltime, calculated as 2,080 hours a year or 40 hours per week times 52 weeks in a year.)

IMG_6827

Tree mulching demonstration at the start of volunteer workday, Pease Park, Austin.

In future posts, we’ll get into the details of what tasks volunteers tackle, how these non-profits organize and manage their volunteer programs, how they work with park agency and park conservancy staff and a host of other topics, including the origin of volunteers in our parks.

Further, one of our efforts in the coming year at the Center for City Park Excellence will be looking at park conservancies and their continued impacts alongside parks agencies in the 100 largest cities, we working to get a more complete picture of what all non-profits working in parks contribute in terms of funds, volunteer hours and “on the ground” work.

Note: The nine park conservancies studied in my thesis were: the Austin Parks Foundation, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Hill Country Conservancy (for the Violet Crown Trail, specifically) the Pease Park Conservancy, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, and the Trail Foundation.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.