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Outdoor Fitness: The Permits You Need

On any given day, you can find an outdoor fitness class operating at your local park. While this type of activity may be appealing to you and your clients, it can be challenging to get permission to use outdoor spaces. Many people in charge of venues such as parks require permits. What’s tricky is that outdoor fitness programming doesn’t often fit into the mold of common permits. Outdoor codes for many parks and recreation departments were written a long time ago, when codes applied to teams renting baseball or soccer fields.

Researching Locations

How can you create reasonable permit situations with parks in your city? Do your research! Find out everything you possibly can about a location you wish to approach. Does it offer other types of classes? How might you pitch your classes and work together with that venue? What are you willing to give it in trade and/or money?

For public outdoor venues, it is important to research your city code regarding the use of such venues. Get answers to your questions through the city planner’s office and/or parks and recreation department.

Understanding What Parks Need

Once you’ve gathered your research, take a step back and consider what the parks in your area need.

Paying Fees. Many parks ask small fitness businesses for fees that are too high for them. While parks may initially ask for fees that are unaffordable, we have found that those fees are negotiable and that sometimes you can use the venue for no fee. Many parks ask fitness professionals for a split; in that case, work toward a 70/30 split. Better yet, see if the park will take a flat monthly rate that is affordable for you and that the park’s administrators can depend on.

Providing Other Benefits. Another option is to see if you can help the park system in another way instead of paying a fee. Here are some possibilities:

  • Organize or assist with a citywide health and fitness fair.
  • Offer free quarterly seminars on fitness-related topics at park locations.
  • Provide free fitness articles for park publications.
  • Make a yearly donation to the park system.
  • Encourage follow-on programming with existing parks and recreation classes.

Using a Winning Approach

When you meet with park representatives, it is in your best interest to be as informed as possible about the park you have in mind and to arrive with a number of ideas to negotiate with. Follow these steps for success:

  1. Create a Presentation. Demonstrate that you are a credible and professional business.
  2. Offer a Solution. Make it easy for the park’s representatives to say yes.
  3. Get Letters of Recommendation. Show that your community supports you.
  4. Be Prepared. Think about the obstacles that the park administrators may see and brainstorm in advance ways you can overcome these challenges.
  5. Be Flexible and Friendly. If the park offers an alternative solution, be considerate and see if that would work for you.

Parks may bring up the question of fitness insurance. Be sure to clarify the location’s needs and explain that your insurance is portable and covers you anywhere you teach groups. Many locations want to be added as an additional insured on your insurance. There is no charge to do that, and it can easily be done with your insurance agent. Other locations will require a waiver recognizing that your company is not affiliated with them; in this case, they would not want to be listed as an additional insured.

Keeping Parks Happy

Once you get a venue, respect it. Check in periodically to see that the park administrators are content with your relationship. Send an occasional thank-you note from your clients. Promote the park on your website or in e-mail marketing when possible.

For more information, please see the complete article, “Getting Permits for Outdoor Fitness Programs,” in the online IDEA Library or in February 2011 IDEA Fitness Journal.


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Lisa Druxman, MA

Lisa Druxman, MA, is the owner and founder of Stroller StridesÔäó. She holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in exercise science and is a recognized presenter, writer and instructor. Certification: ACE

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