Illinois Parks & Recreation
November / December 1995 • Volume 26, Number 6
Trends and Challenges in Rural Recreation
by Roger W. Riley and Margaret L. Arnold
The complexions of rural communities are changing. What was once a flight from the farm is now a movement from the suburbs, to the smaller communities of non-metropolitan areas.
In a recent poll, three out of four Americans stated they would like to live in rural areas and research indicates this movement is expected to continue. In the 1980s, growth in rural communities was minimal. However, since 1990, a three-fold increase has taken place, largely due to the in-migration of former city dwellers. These urban refugees are taxing the service capacities of their new destinations. They bring with them expectations of services that are beyond the resources of their newfound communities.
In Illinois, one of these expectations is a superior park district system that provides comprehensive recreation programs and services for all segments of the community. Seldom can these expectations be met in rural communities. This article explores the urban to rural trend and its consequences as they relate to recreation provision.
Widespread population gains have been experienced in rural areas during the 1990s. This is a reversal from the decade of the 1980s when the trend was to move from farms to urban areas. Much of this change has been caused by heavy in-migration. Population gains were experienced within 75% of all rural communities between 1990 and 1994. During the 1980s, rural areas grew at an average rate of 0.3% per year while the 1990s have seen this rate increase to 0.9% per year or three times the amount. Meanwhile, corresponding increases in metropolitan areas have remained stable at 1.1%.
Romance of Rural Living (The Green Acres Motif)
Sterilized Rural Economy
Less Industrial Lure
Advances in Technology
It is important to note that the population increase in rural communities does not include all agricultural areas. The greatest impact has been experienced in those counties that surround major cities. In Illinois, these cities could include Chicago, Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield, Champaign, Rockford, Danville, and St. Louis. Recent urban refugees are not working in their rural communities; they are commuting to the employment peripheries of populated areas.
This phenomenon has grown as the employment districts of cities have moved from downtown areas to the suburbs. People who choose to make the rural-to-periphery commute are less burdened by the inconvenience of long drives and gridlock. Equally important has been the tendency of older adults to make rural areas into retirement communities. They are lured by many of the same qualities that attract younger families. They are also attracted by the ease with which they can engage in outdoor recreation pursuits.
Leisure Provision in Rural Illinois
Furthermore, the variety of recreation opportunities have been limited by the historical traditions of yesteryear. Innovation has been minimal. The other main source of recreation opportunity has been strongly related to local area school systems. They have been instrumental in providing for the children and youth of rural areas. However, these opportunities are often limited to sporting events, socials and summer facilities provision. Once again, recreational variety and balance of activities is minimal.
The Impacts of In-Migration
In the area of recreation provision, the problem is not just related to increased demand. Former city dwellers in the state of Illinois have developed high levels of expectations for recreation services. They are accustomed to state-of-the-art facilities, sophisticated promotional brochures, and a wide variety of programs in each of the four seasons. Unfortunately, rural communities are ill-equipped to match the services offered by their metropolitan counterparts. Furthermore, there can be a form of resentment when asked to provide such services. The
40 • Illinois Parks & Recreation • November/December 1995
prevailing thought by locals is, "Why did you come to this community if you want it to resemble that which you just left?"
These development programs offer worthy models by which rural communities can develop more sophisticated recreation services. Additionally, there is worth in looking beyond rural recreation development in the United States. For instance, in the outback of Western Australia, recreation directors rove between rural communities to offer programs on a continuing basis. The costs of recreation services have been met by the state of Western Australia. But, with the fiscal constraints that currently exist within the state of Illinois, a more appropriate funding solution might be for rural communities to engage in cooperative funding agreements with their neighboring townships. In this way, they could spread the costs of a roving recreation director.
Public-private cooperation is an alternative that has been used successfully within urban areas to fund recreation facilities and professionals. Many rural communities within Illinois are based around the operations of large agricultural companies. With some cooperation between townships and companies, permanently funded positions might be established for the provision of recreation services. "With the appropriate negotiation and compromise, the funding of a rural recreation director could be a win/win situation for both parties.
It appears that the recreation demands on rural communities will not diminish within the foreseeable future. Therefore, one of the imperatives of existing park districts would be to educate their rural partners on alternative financing and implementation of recreation programs. This could be achieved through outreach service sponsored by various park districts, the Illinois Association of Park Districts, the Illinois Park and Recreation Association and county administrations. By combining the knowledge and initiative of existing organizations, Illinois can better accommodate the changing recreation needs of rural communities.
Roger W. Riley is an assistant professor at Illinois State University. He is the coordinator of the Commercial Recreation and Tourism Sequence within the Recreation and Park Administration Program.
Margaret L. Arnold is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois. She has research interests in gender, race and human resource management as they apply to leisure services. She is a former member of the Recreation and Park Administration faculty at Illinois State University.
For a list of sources, write to the authors at the University of Illinois, Dept. of Leisure Studies, 104 Huff Hall, Champaign, IL 61820.
Illinois Parks & Recreation • November/December 1995 • 41
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator