Skip to Content

P&R Issues and Assistance

Several issues and trends identified during fall 2005 public meetings for the Virginia Outdoors Plan fall outside typical outdoor recreation programmatic areas addressed in Chapter VII or are incorporated into multiple program areas. Those issues include:

These issues are important to outdoor recreation planning and resulted in the recommendations presented in this chapter for implementation by a combination of local, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofits and the private sector.

Playground safety

Playground guidelines are used to evaluate a playground to identify any features that could lead to an injury to a child. Playground guidelines address issues such as protective surfacing, head entrapment hazards, entanglement hazards and equipment location. These guidelines are designed for persons concerned with public playground safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that more than 70 percent of injuries on both public and home playground equipment resulted from falls, especially falls to the surface beneath the equipment. Other reasons for injuries included impact from moving equipment (13 percent), the majority of which involved children under the age of six, running or bumping into stationary equipment (5 percent), and contact with hazards such as protrusions, pinch points, sharp edges, and hot surfaces (7 percent). (Playground Equipment Related Injuries and Deaths, April 1990, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207.)

An average of 15 playground equipment-related deaths are reported each year, according to data from the CPSC, and more than 40 percent of these involve children under the age of six. Fatal injuries most often involved entanglement in ropes tied to or caught on equipment, falls, impacts from tip-overs or failures of equipment, impact with moving swings, and head entrapment (Hazard Sketch: Playground Equipment Related Injuries and Deaths, October 1996, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207) In Virginia, more than 400 children under the age of 15 were hospitalized between 1994 and 1997 after falling from playground equipment. Costs associated with these hospitalizations totaled $1,858, 289, or an average of $4600 per hospitalization (Center for Injury and Violence Prevention, Virginia Department of Health).

Americans with Disabilities Act

There are many opportunities in Virginia for most citizens to enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreational experiences, including boating, hunting, fishing, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, swimming, picnicking, camping, nature observation and sightseeing. However, many citizens with disabilities lack opportunities to participate in such activities. It's important for recreation planners and providers to understand some of the barriers persons with disabilities might face that may limit their participation. Physical, social, emotional, transportation and financial barriers can then be addressed during the planning and implementation phases of recreational program and facility development.

One of the biggest obstacles that persons with disabilities (i.e., physical, sensory and mental impairments) might face is an attitudinal barrier. Today's society is more conscious of the need for greater accessibility for everyone. Attitudes are slowly changing, and many positive steps are being taken to help create better access. Although many barriers to participation still exist, they frequently can be eliminated by educating staff about the abilities and needs of persons with disabilities. Once staff members are aware of the barriers, the necessary program or facility modifications can be made to increase accessibility. Often, only minor adjustments are needed. Some examples of program modification include: modifying rules, regulations, equipment and methods of communicating. Facility modification includes removing environmental or architectural barriers.

Design Guidelines

The guidelines for designing park and open space areas are as varied and diverse as the resources that will support them. Depending on the kind of experience that is intended and the type of user to be served, there are many different sources for park and open space design guidelines. The schematic sketches in the latter part of this chapter will provide a brief overview of the size, service area, administrative responsibilities, purpose, character, location and potential facilities that might exist on various levels from a neighborhood playground or play lot to a state park.


According to the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, the population of Virginia is growing faster than the nation as a whole. Between 2000 and 2005, Virginia saw an increase of 500,000 people or a 7 percent growth. The major source of this increase is from people moving to Virginia for employment and economic opportunities. The population growth results in more congested highways, expanded housing developments and a greater demand for schools. A growing population also results in a heavier demand for parks and recreation services, and can place dwindling open space resources at risk. Not only is Virginia's population growing in numbers, it is also becoming increasingly diverse, both as a whole and within individual localities. This diversity is demonstrated through differing cultures, ages, education levels and financial status. These varying characteristics are creating a new and different type of society with many complex issues and concerns. It is important to engage all citizens in enjoying outdoor recreational resources.

Carrying capacity

As increasing farmland and forestland acres are developed and as Virginia's population grows, it becomes essential to ensure that recreational and natural areas are managed to handle increased demand of users and prevent the degradation of these resources that provide visitors with optimal outdoor experiences. The sustainability of a park or natural area with regard to certain types of recreational use is measured by carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is defined as the population that can be supported indefinitely by its supporting systems.


Conservation and outdoor ethics are essential for protecting water quality, maintaining plant and animal habitat, reducing the causes of global warming and protecting Virginia's outdoors. Adequate outdoor recreation and conservation lands must be maintained to ensure long-term health of the environment, and Virginia's citizens must be educated to protect these resources. Local, regional and state initiated education for conservation and outdoor ethics is needed as populations grow and lands continue to develop. The growth of a community-driven conservation ethic will strengthen the success of green infrastructure as a planning model. The difference between success and failure for outdoor resources will be made at the community and individual level where responsible actions of many people have the opportunity to change the complexion of the commonwealth's outdoors for future generations. Click here for more detail.

Crime prevention

Living and recreating in a safe place is an essential quality of life factor. Code of Virginia § 15.2-2283 recognizes this in the purpose of zoning ordinances which states: "Zoning ordinances are for the general purpose of promoting health, safety or general welfare of the public… and to these ends such ordinances shall be designed to give reasonable consideration…. to provide for adequate light and convenience of access and safety from fire, flood, crime and other dangers. In addition to promoting the reduction of crime through zoning, all public space planning, design and management should be implemented to reduce or eliminate the opportunity for and incidents of crime as well as ameliorate citizen fears. This can be accomplished through the application of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques and principles. Click here (pra-cpips.pdf) for more detail.

Landowner Liability

Liability can be a major concern for landowners who consider allowing public access to their property. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a Recreational Use Statute, also known as the Landowner Liability Law, which protects landowners who allow public recreational use of their property. Also included is a provision that limits the liability of private landowners who enter into a lease agreement with agencies of the Commonwealth. In 1994, the code was amended to include easements for access to public parks, historic sites or other public recreation. This legislation provides that "a landowner shall owe no duty of care to keep land or premises safe for entry or use by others…" for a variety of recreational uses. It limits landowner liability with the exception of "gross negligence or willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity." A landowner who receives a fee for the use of their property would not be exempt from liability, as outlined in the code. Click here for more detail.


Outdoor recreation promotes health and wellness by providing open space and natural areas for public access, and by offering recreational programming that contributes to active lifestyles and vibrant communi- ties. The significance of outdoor recreation in creating healthy lifestyles should not be underestimated. Health care costs are rising. The U.S. spends approximately 40 percent more than other countries on health care, while only 2 percent of this annual health care cost is allocated for disease prevention. An increased investment in outdoor recreation contributes to preventive health care and lowers health costs.

Three-quarters of Americans are not regularly active, and inactivity rates are increasing. With exploding health-care costs and the prevalence of chronic disease, prevention programs are gaining more attention and surfacing in recreation programs across the nation. Americans are shifting from a medical model to a more holistic model of health, which emphasizes promotion of wellness and prevention of disease. With increasing evidence demonstrating the connection between wellness and the use of park and recreation services, local recreation providers are compelled to expand their range of services. Click here for more detail.