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Outdoor Recreation Planner

Significant Points

Outdoor recreation is an important activity on America's lands and waters. Studies have revealed that most Americans seek outdoor recreation and that all indicators – population increase, rising incomes, growing mobility and more leisure time – point to a mounting demand for outdoor recreation. Primary concerns of positions in this occupation are to assess the demand for outdoor recreation and to provide the facilities needed to meet this demand. The land, water, mountains, forests, wildlife, and other outdoor elements which are useful for recreational purposes are considered to be recreation resources.

Outdoor recreation planners insure that outdoor recreation needs are met for people in both urban and rural areas. At the same time, they seek to protect and enhance the scenic and aesthetic quality of the physical environment in which the people live. This concern for the outdoor environment includes open space and other public land in urban areas. The outdoor recreation planner aims to assure opportunities for creative use of leisure time outdoors.

Nature of the Work

Many outdoor recreation planners are directly involved in the effort to coordinate all Federal outdoor recreation planning, policy, and activity. Some planners assist land managers, scientists, and engineers by developing long-range recreation aspects of such programs as: multiple-use forestry, reservoir or park management, soil conservation, or civil works planning.

Outdoor recreation planners:

  • appraise needs for new or expanded outdoor recreation resources;
  • identify and classify existing or potential outdoor recreation areas;
  • develop and review long-range and short-range outdoor recreation plans to meet present and future needs of the population;
  • coordinate and assist Federal, State, local, and private efforts to reclaim and protect the outdoor recreation environment and provide outdoor recreation opportunities;
  • administer financial assistance programs to the States, and through States to local public agencies; and
  • develop standards and methods for outdoor recreation planning.
Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-05

This is a trainee level. Assignments consist of a variety of standardized tasks and are selected to provide: (1) training and on-the-job experience in methods, procedures and techniques relevant to recreation surveys and studies; (2) an orientation to the agency's programs, policies and procedures; (3) a basis for more responsible assignments.

Typical assignments include: (1) carrying out designated portions of an inventory of existing recreation resources; (2) preparing graphs, charts, and other types of data utilized in presenting material produced by higher grade recreation planners; (3) gathering and analyzing facts which are part of a larger study; and (4) reviewing material prepared by other agencies for completeness and ascertaining that all necessary documents are presented.

Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-07

This is the developmental level. GS-7 planners perform tasks which expand their repertories of methods and techniques and further develop skills in recreation planning. They carry out varied assignments which expose them to various work situations and problems.

Outdoor Recreation Planners GS-7 perform fact finding, analytical, and interpretive work which supports broader assignments of higher grade planners. Assignments are usually screened beforehand for unusual or difficult problems. The assignments typically require use of a range of established procedures and a grasp of basic policies and principles applicable to recreation planning and development.

GS-7 planners apply familiarity with established agency planning procedures, whereas GS-5 planners acquire such familiarity. GS-7 planners perform such tasks as the following:

  • gather and analyze data related to existing and potential recreation resources, with responsibility for recognizing prominent trends;
  • correlate, adjust, and correct statistical data;
  • identify resource study problems for consideration by higher level planners;
  • prepare data summaries and basic drafts of supporting material for inclusion in resource study reports;
  • carry out the routine aspects of review and evaluation of project proposals submitted by agencies requesting financial assistance under grants-in-aid programs.
Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-09

Outdoor Recreation Planners GS-9 perform difficult and responsible work involving review, analysis, evaluation or coordination of matters related to recreation planning, development, and use. They apply resourcefulness and judgment in dealing with problems in selecting, adapting, and applying accepted principles, precedents and procedures to recreation planning and development. GS-9 is the first level at which the planners work independently to any significant degree on other than very routine assignments. GS-9 planners apply significant understanding of the programs to their assignments. By comparison, GS-7 assignments are screened so as to require primarily knowledge of well-established procedures and practices.

Representative assignments are to:

  • Serve as a team member on studies to determine if areas constituting a complex of land and water resources, e.g., a river basin or group of islands, possess natural and recreational values worthy of inclusion within a system of Federal, State, city, or other local outdoor recreation areas. Identify existing and potential recreation resources and develop and analyze the data needed for supporting recommendations and report. The data may include information about land use, ownership, and values; water use and values; scenic, geological and historical features; flora and fauna; visitation; and other relevant geographic, socioeconomic, or political items.
  • Investigate, review and evaluate project proposals for grants-in-aid assistance to determine technical soundness, economic feasibility and compliance with the statutory requirements for financial assistance in acquiring and developing outdoor recreation facilities. Determine that documentation submitted adequately explains purpose and scope of the specific projects and that the project proposals are in accord with approved comprehensive long-range outdoor recreation plans for a State or other entity. Make on-site inspections and contact officials at various governmental levels to develop information needed for the review of the project. Make recommendations for action on proposals and prepare supporting material.
  • Review applications for permits for dredging, filling, excavation, and other work in navigable waters to determine whether the proposed work conflicts with outdoor recreation programs or has a significant impact on outdoor recreation resources and natural beauty. Work closely with Federal, State, and local officials concerned, and conduct field reviews of proposed projects as necessary. Prepare findings, comments, and recommendations for decision by higher authority.
Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-11

GS-11 planners perform assignments requiring substantial resourcefulness and the exercise of experienced judgment. They analyze, evaluate and coordinate matters involving recreation planning, development, and use. They evaluate several alternative approaches to problems and select the best. They regularly adapt standard guides, methods, principles, and procedures in carrying out their duties. GS-11 planners must understand and know the organizational, political, economic, social and conservational factors involved in recreation planning and use. Consequently, their assignments are broader in scope than those of GS-9 planners, whose analyses are more basic, require a less developed level of expertise, and less mature judgment. GS-9 assignments are usually segments of the broader studies and require application of existing policies and procedures.

Representative assignments for Outdoor Recreation Planners GS-11 are to:

  • Review and appraise comprehensive outdoor recreation development plans and projects of Federal and State agencies to ascertain how they relate to each other and to developments in the field of recreation. Through contacts with officials of Federal and State agencies, and other organizations promote coordination and cooperation in the development of outdoor recreation plans. Recommend courses of action looking toward optimum results from recreation planning in the jurisdiction.
  • Conduct studies to evaluate the recreational potential of water resource projects aimed at providing general guides to future water resource development and land acquisition. These studies are basic to more intensive study and planning for the development of water and related land resources of river basins or subbasins. These studies include investigating and inventorying existing and potential recreation resources, analyzing population distribution, judging needs for recreation lands and facilities, and examining relationships of needs to growth and mobility of the population and to the economy.
  • Gather data, analyze problems, make recommendations for action and provide leadership in a program for disposing of surplus property for parks and recreation uses. Process applications from State and local governments to acquire surplus real property. Visit park sites, confer with public officials, work out with such officials plans for utilizing the property, and prepare reports with recommendations.
  • Conduct comprehensive studies of large existing recreational complexes or reservoir developments to reassess recreational development needs and to determine the means to achieve optimum recreation use for the useful life of the project. Make studies relating to water supply, sewage disposal, traffic control, safety, and protection for public use areas.
  • Work closely with the State to which assigned and render technical advice and assistance in developing its project proposals for matching Federal funds. Review and evaluate complex project proposals that require a high awareness of resource capabilities, demands for recreation, priorities, intergovernmental relationships, and other interrelated factors.
Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-12

GS-12 planners carry out assignments which require highly developed and experienced judgment and a great deal of originality and resourcefulness. They identify problems in the development and management of recreation resources. They work especially on matters of controversy, inadequate data, inconsistent procedures or lack of guides. By comparison, GS-11 planners have complex but well defined assignments. GS-12 planners operate with marked freedom from technical control in selecting techniques and establishing methods and procedures for problem solving or program execution. They identify alternatives in seeking settlement of conflicts and negotiate sensitive issues.

Representative assignments for Outdoor Recreation Planners GS-12 are to:

  • Develop guidelines, standards, and procedures for recreation planning elements such as: measuring and reporting recreation use and predicting demand; analyzing recreation values; establishing and maintaining fee programs; operating and managing concessions; and other resource planning and management aspects.
  • Provide technical assistance and advice to numerous establishments in an area on various phases of recreation plan development. Concentrate on particularly difficult and complex matters. Provide guidance in studies and development of recreation inventories and plans.
  • Review or direct the recreation planning aspects of intensive and comprehensive water resource studies. Such studies are used in developing comprehensive basinwide plans for the conservation and development of water and related land resources. These studies require an in-depth analysis of the organizational, economic, social, intergovernmental and conservational factors involved. The planners also give full consideration to the natural, scenic, cultural and historic values of the environment. Coordinate recreation planning aspects with Federal, State, local and private planning agencies. Direct the preparation of reports on findings and recommendations.
  • Review, evaluate and recommend the disposition of community requests for financial aid in acquiring and developing land for park, recreation, scenic, or historic purposes in or near urban areas. Controversy is involved or the community relations aspects are unusually sensitive; or some other unusual combination of complicating interrelationships is present in the assignment.
Outdoor Recreation Planner, GS-0023-13

GS-13 assignments call for high leadership skills and expert problem-solving abilities. These assignments generally involve recreation planning matters which are particularly complex, highly controversial, precedent-setting in nature, or entail especially intricate coordination problems. GS-13 planners must have a very high level of knowledge and understanding of the many facets of large scale programs for developing outdoor recreation resources and enhancing the quality of the physical environment. GS-13 assignments involve projects, programs, and actions which have widespread impact and affect the planning and operations of numerous entities, public and private. By comparison, GS-12 assignments, though complex and sensitive, are not as controversial and do not call for development of the agency position on controversial issues without guidance.

Representative assignments for Outdoor Recreation Planners GS-13 are to:

  • Serve as functional leader or program chief in charge of a major phase of the agency's total program at the regional level in developing goals, standards, methods and systems for furthering outdoor recreation planning and development programs. Analyze trends and developments, and identify needed research and experimentation. Make recommendations for consideration by regional or higher level officials. Direct the preparation of instructions, information, and guidelines for use on a regional basis.
  • Review or conduct studies of national significance such as wild and scenic rivers, island groups, and national recreation areas. Guide progress of studies to insure proper direction and completion. Coordinate study programs with Federal, State, and local agencies having an interest. Develop guidelines for Federal acquisition of land for recreational purposes and monitor activities of local agencies in this regard. Contribute substantially to the formulation of proposals for developing and administering the resource areas under study. Provide advice and assistance on policy matters to regional and field offices, States, and local agencies.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Outdoor recreation planners seek to provide recreation opportunities for people in urban, seashore, forest, and other environments. Consequently, the outdoor recreation planning positions may require consideration of particular aspects of one or more fields, e.g., economics, urban planning, sociology, landscape architecture, forestry, wildlife biology, park administration, or soil conservation. The planners consult at length with specialists in these related fields when the need arises. The planners must possess a framework of knowledge and competence which will not only facilitate communication but provide insight as to which specialists to consult, at which point, and for what reason. The degree to which there is a need for knowledge of certain disciplines will vary with the position.

The following are examples of roles which several disciplines play in outdoor recreation planning:

  • Forestry – A large proportion of outdoor recreation activities is on forest lands. A basic familiarity with forest management practices is significant. Such knowledge is important in outdoor recreation planning because of the necessity to consider the behavior of these lands under varying intensities and types of use.
  • Sociology – Outdoor recreation planners must understand the relationships between income and other socioeconomic factors, such as education, occupations, leisure, and age in planning outdoor recreation. There is differential participation in outdoor recreation related to income. The variation in participation is especially important when such expensive activities as boating, water skiing, and horseback riding are considered. Also, sensitivity to urban problems in outdoor recreation planning and development is important.
  • Wildlife biology – Some understanding of habitat requirements and ecological relationships of wildlife facilities is necessary for planning the use of land and water for recreation purposes. Unless the wildlife requirements are provided for there will not be much prospect of maintaining wildlife in the recreation areas. A similar understanding of aspects of fishery biology is important.
  • Economics – Outdoor recreation planners apply some knowledge of economics in calculating recreational benefits. They analyze the currently available supply and distribution of recreational facilities, and project potential demand. Economic considerations must be brought to bear in determining location of facilities, intensity of development, and whether potential use justifies development costs. Also, the difficult evaluation of intangible benefits obtainable from open space, greenbelt areas, and other such resources must be taken into account along with tangible gains or losses when resource development decisions are made.
  • Soil and water conservation – Outdoor recreation planners apply an understanding of conservation in determining suitability of land for recreational use and the appropriate conservational practices and measures needed for protection and improvement of the land or water. The planner must be sensitive to the limitations and treatment needs of soil, water and related resources to create or maintain the quality of the environment through proper management of these resources.

Recreation workers held about 327,500 jobs in 2008, and many additional workers held summer jobs in the occupation. About 31 percent of recreation workers worked for local governments, primarily in park and recreation departments. About 16 percent of recreation workers were employed by nursing and residential care facilities, and another 10 percent were employed in civic and social organizations, such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or the YMCA and YWCA.

Job Outlook

Faster than average growth is expected. Jobs opportunities for part-time, seasonal, and temporary recreation workers will be good, but competition will remain keen for career positions as recreation workers.

Employment change. Overall employment of recreation workers is projected to increase by 15 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Although people will spend more time and money on recreation, budget restrictions in State and local government will limit the number of jobs added. Many of the new jobs will be in social assistance organizations and in nursing and residential care facilities. Civic and social organizations and fitness and sports centers will also contribute to growth.

Growth will be driven by the growing numbers of young and older Americans. The large numbers of births in recent years likely will increase the demand for recreation services for children, and retiring baby boomers are expected to have more leisure time, higher disposable incomes, and more concern for health and fitness than previous generations had. The latter factors should lead to an increasing demand for recreation services for baby boomers.

Job prospects. Applicants for part-time, seasonal, and temporary recreation jobs should have good opportunities, but competition will remain keen for career positions because the recreation field attracts many applicants and because the number of career positions is limited compared with the number of lower level seasonal jobs. Opportunities for staff positions should be best for people with formal training and experience in part-time or seasonal recreation jobs. Volunteer experience, part-time work during school, and a summer job are viewed favorably. Those with graduate degrees should have the best opportunities for supervisory or administrative positions. Job openings will stem from growth and the need to replace the large numbers of workers who leave the occupation each year.


In May 2008, median annual wages of recreation workers who worked full time were $21,960. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,680 and $28,810. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $15,630, while the highest paid 10 percent earned $37,730 or more. However, earnings of recreation directors and others in supervisory or managerial positions can be substantially higher. Most public and private recreation agencies provide full-time recreation workers with typical benefits; part-time workers receive few, if any, benefits. In May 2008, median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of recreation workers were as follows:

Nursing care facilities $23,100
Individual and family services 22,260
Local government 21,890
Civic and social organizations 19,800
Other amusement and recreation industries 19,670


The large numbers of temporary, seasonal jobs in the recreation field typically are filled by high school or college students, generally do not have formal education requirements, and are open to anyone with the desired personal qualities. Employers compete for a share of the vacationing student labor force, and although salaries in recreation often are lower than those in other fields, the nature of the work and the opportunity to work outdoors are attractive to many.

Part-time, seasonal, and volunteer jobs in recreation include summer camp counselors, craft specialists, and afterschool and weekend recreation program leaders. In addition, many teachers and college students accept jobs as recreation workers when school is not in session. The vast majority of volunteers serve as activity leaders at local day camp programs or in youth organizations, camps, nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, and other settings.

Sources of Additional Information

For information on jobs in recreation, contact employers such as local government departments of parks and recreation, nursing homes and other residential facilities, the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and other local social or religious organizations.

For information on careers, certification, and academic programs in parks and recreation, contact:

  • National Recreation and Park Association, 22377 Belmont Ridge Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148-4501. Internet:

For information about a career as a camp counselor, contact:

  • American Camp Association, 5000 State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151-7902. Internet:

Information on obtaining Outdoor Recreation Planner positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.


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