Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey: Findings Report

Benefits studied:
Uses studied: ,
Place: Missoula


This study found that while 70 percent of Missoula residents were willing to pay more taxes to acquire open space and build new trails and recreation facilities, still more (77%) were willing to pay more taxes to maintain existing facilities. Eighty-six percent of all residents had used City parks in the previous 12 months, highlighting the importance of within-community trails even in rural areas with public lands nearby.


This survey is a good example of the research needed before asking a community to consider increasing funding for parks and trails. The results are a statistically representative cross-section of resident opinions on trail use, resource priorities, and spending.


This survey was conducted in Missoula County and the City of Missoula in western Montana. The county population in 2013 was 110,243; the city population in 2013 was 67,710.

Trail Type

The survey addressed residents’ usage of hiking trails and paved commuter trails in the city and county, as well as other recreation facilities like playgrounds, river access sites, and pools/water parks.


The City and County governments of Missoula commissioned a community survey to help determine the future management and development of public recreation facilities and services. The results of this survey were used to gauge whether or not to propose a bond measure to maintain and construct parks and trails, as well as to determine community priorities among recreation facilities. This community survey provided extensive information about residents’ use of and satisfaction with existing trails and recreation facilities.


Residents’ usage of recreation facilities included:

  • Eighty-six percent of all residents had visited City parks or trails during the past 12 months; 76 percent of surveyed residents visited County parks or trails.
  • Seventy-three percent of respondents used hiking trails, 56 percent used paved commuter trails, and 49 percent used natural area/wildlife habitat within the past year.
  • Hiking trails were the most-used facility (50%), followed by playgrounds (25%), river access sites (24%), paved commuter trails (23%), and pool/water parks (19%).

Residents’ priorities for future management and development of recreation facilities included:

  • Eighty percent of households reported a need for hiking and biking trails, followed in priority by river access sites (69%), natural areas/wildlife habitat (69%), paved commuter trails (64%), group pavilions/picnicking areas (62%), and pool/water parks (61%).
  • Eighty-seven percent of all households felt it either very important (53%) or somewhat important (34%) to maintain/improve parks, trails, open space, and recreation facilities compared to other priorities.

Residents’ opinions about spending on trails included:

  • Seventy-four percent of respondents who used hiking trails were willing to pay $50 or more per year to construct new trails.
  • Seventy-seven percent of all residents would pay at least $10 more per year in additional taxes to maintain trails and recreation facilities; 21 percent would pay $40 or more.
  • Seventy percent of all residents would pay at least $10 more per year in additional taxes to acquire open space and to construct new trails and recreation facilities; 22 percent would pay $40 or more.

Additional considerations for trails and recreation facilities in the Missoula area included:

  • Residents responded that the main reasons preventing them from using recreation facilities more often were: “too busy” (36%), “too far from our residence” (24%), and “use other state or federal lands/facilities” (22%).
  • Residents reported learning about City and County programs, parks and facilities via newspapers (48%), from friends and neighbors (43%), parks guides/brochures (39%), and parks’ websites (34%).
  • In the majority of responses, city residents were slightly more in favor than county residents of maintaining and building recreational facilities, including trails.


The community survey was designed to obtain statistically valid results, and was conducted by mail and phone from October through December 2010.  Survey questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of 3,500 households in both the City and County of Missoula, Montana.  A total of 1,107 surveys were completed, 41 percent from residents living outside of the city and 59 percent from city residents.


Leisure Vision and PROS Consulting. 2011. Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey: Findings Report. Missoula County and City of Missoula, Montana.