How to Volunteer for the Parks and Recreation Department

Hispanic park ranger talking to children
While local parks and recreation departments do have full-time employees, many also rely on volunteers to operate.
John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Getty Images

In cities across the country, local parks and recreation departments maintain playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses, recreation centers, botanic gardens, museums and tennis courts. They run youth camps, after-school programs and senior centers, and offer classes in activities like yoga, karate and arts and crafts. With so much going on, it's obvious that these departments can use your help.

In New York City, for example, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation oversees 29,000 acres of land -- 14 percent of the city -- including Yankee Stadium, the Coney Island Boardwalk and Central Park. It runs five major stadiums, 1,000 playgrounds, 800 athletic fields, 550 tennis courts, 66 public pools, 17 nature centers and 13 golf courses. The department also maintains 14 miles of beach [source: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation]. While they have regular employees, their jurisdiction is large and help is welcome.


The San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department maintains 19,000 acres of municipal land, with 229 facilities including gymnasiums, baseball fields, skate parks, dog parks and playgrounds [source: San Antonio Department of Parks and Recreation].

In Los Angeles, the Department of Recreation and Parks opened the city's first playground in 1904. It now operates 180 recreation centers, 59 swimming pools, 29 senior centers, nine lakes and a dozen museums, including the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro and Travel Town in Griffith Park. The department also hosts picnics, shuffleboard tournaments, bridge games and dances [source: Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks].

Because your local parks and recreation department has such a wide reach, you can choose from any number of volunteer opportunities depending on your interest. Even if you aren't from a metropolitan area, your parks and recreation department probably has plenty of volunteer prospects, read on to learn what you can do.


Becoming a Parks and Recreation Department Volunteer

Most parks and recreation departments offer hundreds of programs and classes, which for volunteers means one thing -- choice.

As a parks and recreation volunteer, you can help clean up local parks, keep score at sports tournaments, set up games, coach basketball, judge diving events, referee water polo matches, design flyers for events, send out press releases, write grants and run fundraising campaigns [source: City of Phoenix].


Those interested in history or archaeology can become docents at local museums, greeting visitors, leading tours and providing general assistance. Others may opt to become a volunteer in one of the park's botanical gardens leading tours, restoring and maintaining plant life and helping out at special events.

In New York City, for example, volunteers support GreenThumb, the nation's largest urban gardening program, helping 700 neighborhood groups create community gardens to revitalize blighted neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs [source: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation].

The best way to find out how to volunteer for your local parks and recreation department is through its Web site. Most departments require volunteers to be at least 18 years old (with some volunteer opportunities for teens that require parental consent), have a valid picture ID and fill out an application [source: City of Phoenix].

You may also be required to go through an interview and attend an orientation. Some parks and recreation departments require background checks and references.

Read on to find out the benefits of volunteering at your local parks and recreation department.


Benefits of Being a Parks and Recreation Department Volunteer

If the satisfaction of helping others isn't enough, there are a number of other benefits to volunteering for your local parks and recreation department. For example, you could pick up key leadership skills. And there's the fact that you'll likely be working outdoors, making new friends, getting in shape, learning new things, improving your self-esteem and building your resume. These are just a few of the things you stand a chance at gaining, among others.

Most parks and recreation departments offer free admission to their parks and facilities if volunteers work for a certain number of hours. In some places, like South Dakota, that means free campsites with electrical hookups [source: South Dakota Park Volunteer Manual]. Many state park passes are getting costly so this is a great way to save money while enjoying the parks.


In New York City, volunteering includes free workshops on topics like bird identification and aquatic ecology [source: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation]. For specific information on your area, just check out your state's parks and recreation Web site.

Many parks and recreation departments host annual volunteer recognition days. The lure of a party with free food is a strong incentive for some, but if you need more, consider this: Volunteering can often lead to a full-time job working in a field you love.

Straying from the material benefits, studies have also shown that volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction, lower rates of depression and better mental and physical health, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service [source: CityTownInfo].

For more on volunteering at a parks and recreation department near you, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • City of Phoenix. "Parks & Recreation Volunteer Opportunities." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • City Town Info. "Idle Workers Attracted to Volunteer Jobs." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • Illinois Periodicals Online. "Statistics Show Growing Demand for Parks and Recreation Services." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. "Who We Are." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • National Recreation and Parks Association. "Sign Up for Weekly News Briefs." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. "About Parks." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. "Green Thumbs Community Gardens." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • San Antonio Department of Parks and Recreation. "About Us." (Accessed 5/23/09)
  • South Dakota Park Volunteer Manual. "Volunteer Benefits." (Accessed 5/23/09)