These game-changing public parks and recreation projects are not only innovative, but transformative, turning family entertainment into edutainment and an opportunity to build better communities.

The drive for many community venues to serve the changing needs of the public is constant. Parks and recreation departments and facility leaders must attempt to discern true industry trends from fads in order to direct a sustainable path for their organizations. With varied goals ranging from serving as a safe haven for at-risk teens to becoming a luxury destination, there are many directions innovative community builders can consider.

Here are four times communities totally got it right when developing parks and recreation programs that both serve and inspire, and how they can continue to use technology to up their games.

No. 1: Go big or go home: The Epic

Everything is bigger in Texas, especially The Epic project taking place in Grand Prairie. The Epic is a massive 172-acre community development project that includes a recreation/life center, amphitheater, library, inclusive playground, lake amenities, nature trails and indoor/outdoor water park all just outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Funded in large part by the community, The Epic worked intimately with local families and individuals of all ages to conceptualize and create a facility that would fulfill as many of the area needs as possible. And they leveraged the expertise of amusement industry leaders to deliver a top-notch, seamless experience. Launching with integrated technology means staff can focus on guest service and management can monitor and assess operations from a central location. Including three “first-ever” slides in the waterpark industry also means The Epic has ready-made PR they can leverage to gain visibility outside of the immediate area.

No. 2: Focus on programs that support the core mission: Miracle Field

Murfreesboro, TN, located roughly an hour outside of Nashville, is now home to Miracle Field, a newly revamped sports and playground complex purpose built to serve children and adults with special needs.

In partnership with Project One Four, Murfreesboro’s new baseball and softball fields accommodate wheelchairs and assistive devices and feature a custom-built, rubberized playing surface. In addition to the fields, spectator and concession areas, it also boasts a sensory rich playground experience.

While they have already hosted several Miracle league tournaments for local teams, it would be great to see them offer inclusive hosted birthday party experiences for children of differing abilities, partner with local Special Kids chapters and other nonprofits for fundraisers and family days, or host educational events about the types of services local government agencies off in support of families with special needs.

No. 3: Use the mission to change the world: Morgan’s Inspiration Island

San Antonio is now home to the very first splash park specializing in serving guests with special needs: Morgan’s Inspiration Island. Founder, Gordan Hartman, first wanted to offer an inclusive amusement experience for guests of all abilities opened Morgan’s Wonderland in 2010.

This summer, Hartman partnered with San Antonio to develop and launch Morgan’s Inspiration Island, which offers a never-before-seen water park experience. The park features many innovative pool and play areas, rides and interactive elements. In addition to being wheelchair accessible, the park even offers waterproof wheelchairs guests can use during their visit.

It would be hard to top what they’re already doing, but there are a few areas where they could smooth guest touch-points. For example, offering an online booking process for birthday parties and groups would make it easier for guests to schedule and pay for their events so they can focus on their families day-of. It would also help the facility manage incoming requests as well as sell, schedule and serve parties with fewer interruptions.

No. 4: Build a loyal fanbase: The Hub

The Hub Recreation Center in Marion, Ohio, has clearly made investing in its local community its primary focus. They’ve created an impressive loyalty program, with members affectionately being dubbed “Hubbers” and sports teams known as “Hubballers.” They even feature “Hubber Highlights,” customer success stories that continue to show their members love.

Their community focus, centering around health and wellbeing, offers value-add health screenings and drives, camps and unique experiences including birthday parties with several aquatic, sports, or inflatable attractions. And with trendy “mermaid” swim lessons to scuba diving courses, they seem to be tapped in to what gets families interested in participating. The more tuned in they stay, the better positioned they will be to meet the ever-changing needs, and the more likely they’ll be in position to earn recurring revenue that will build success.   

As community teams begin to approach local parks and recreation development like multi-facility family entertainment or amusement centers, the need for strategies and technologies that can keep up will continue to grow. See how a seamless POS system with just the right special features can simplify complex community recreation projects.

Know of other really fantastic public parks and recreation projects happening around the country? Share the details with us on Facebook or Twitter!

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