First Landing State Park: Participation Patterns and Perceived Health Outcomes of Recreation at an Urban-Proximate Park


  • Edwin Gómez Old Dominion University
  • Eddie Hill Old Dominion University



urban park, perceived health benefits, hiking, trails, gender, race, age, proximity


Executive Summary: Former Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne (2007), acknowledged the role National Parks should play in health and fitness: “National parks will be part of the solution to reduce obesity, chronic illness, and adult-onset diabetes” (p. 12). However, given the increase in urbanization and population diversity, we have turned our focus to an urban-proximate state park. First Landing State Park (FLSP) in Virginia Beach includes 2,888 acres of land, 20 miles of trails, and is situated in the most populated city in Virginia. Little research exists on the perceived health benefits of urban park trail users.The purpose of this study was to explore demographic variables and perceived health benefits of urban park trail users by using the Perceived Health Outcomes of Recreation Scale (PHORS) at FLSP. Similar to Tinsley and Croskey’s (2002) investigation, rather than focus on the activities and activity preferences, we looked at perceived psychosocial benefits derived from the activities.This research study considered (a) gender differences, (b) racial group differences, (c) age difference, (d) residential differences, and (e) trail user types as they related to perceived health benefits and park use. A total of 307 questionnaires were completed, with a response rate of 66.3%. However, because the focus of this study is on urban recreation, visitors from outside of Hampton Roads were removed, leaving 84% of responses (n=258) for the purposes of this study. Analyses included t-tests, ANOVAs and regression. This study reveals the critical role of urban-proximate parks in providing opportunities for wellness, access to nature, social justice, and improved quality of life. It also provided multiple key insights into the demographics and perceived health benefits of urban visitors to the most visited state park in Virginia. Gómez and Malega (2007) had called for more studies to explore the relationship between perceived benefits of recreation and park use. This study answered that call and found, of the three perceived benefits captured by the PHORS (psychological benefits, improvement benefits, prevention benefits), perceived realization of a psychological outcome was the only significant predictor of park use. According to Kil and colleagues, “little knowledge exists on wildland urban interface user groups’ perceived benefits” (p. 377). It is our hope that we have begun to address this gap in the literature, calling for more studies of this nature.

Author Biographies

Edwin Gómez, Old Dominion University

Professor of Park, Recreation & Tourism StudiesUniversity Professor Distinction

Eddie Hill, Old Dominion University

Assistant Professor of Park, Recreation & Tourism Studies





Special Issue: Healthy Parks, Healthy People Part II