The pandemic sparked a significant surge in outdoor activities, as Canadians increasingly turned to local parks and trails.

A study conducted during the pandemic showed that 24% of Canadians used outdoor venues beyond their neighbourhood more than they did pre-pandemic. However, we also know from this research that certain population groups were less likely to increase their activity in this type of venue (for example, older adults, those living in lower income households, and those who were less active were less likely to say that they used these venues more frequently during the pandemic).

This shift was driven largely by the closure of indoor facilities and the suspension of community sports and recreation programs. Activities such as cycling, kayaking, cross-country skiing, hiking, and walking – often accompanied by a new family pet – gained popularity. Outdoor sports, such as golf, tennis, and pickleball, that allowed for physical distancing, also saw increased participation. Although traditional indoor community sports have resumed, Canadians continue to engage in outdoor and unstructured activities at levels higher than they did pre-pandemic.

This trend presents an opportunity for the sector to both capitalize on and nurture the growing enthusiasm for outdoor activities. By maintaining and enhancing programs, services, and spaces that encourage outdoor engagement, the sector can ensure sustained interest. However, it is also crucial to address the related challenges including environmental impact. The rising number of people using trails and parks not only bolsters conservation efforts but also heightens public appreciation for the impacts of climate change.

A second opportunity relates to who is using the green spaces. In the 2021 Canadian City Parks Report, Canadians who identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour (BIPOC), reported that they visited parks less often than white Canadians during the early pandemic. Overall, 22% of BIPOC respondents indicated that harassment or discrimination prevented them from accessing or enjoying park space, compared to only 8% of white respondents. Equally as important is to understand why certain populations were less likely to report an increased use of outdoor venues, as per earlier study results.

According to a 2022 national report by the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health about Canadian green spaces during COVID-19:

  • Park use did not increase uniformly across communities. Regional differences in park access and public health communication may have affected park use, even in places without local restrictions. In addition, marginalized or racialized communities may have experienced barriers to park use, whether due to a lack of local parks, concerns regarding safety, or discriminatory enforcement of public health orders.
  • Parks, and green spaces more broadly, should be viewed as public health assets, increasing resilience during the current pandemic and during future climate-related disruptions. Accordingly, environmental public health should take opportunities to participate in park planning and design to ensure best health outcomes.

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