There’s no denying it – we talk about our Park and Rec department a lot. And in doing so, we use terms like “parks” and “nature preserves” pretty often. What we’ve found, though, is that over time people have started to use these terms interchangeably. But they are NOT the same thing! They may (sort of) be similar in the way they look, but the truth is that parks and nature preserves have their own identities and serve their own purposes. Let’s compare.

Infographic explaining the difference between parks and nature preserves, including their purposes, the activities you can do at each, and the work Park and Rec does at each.

Of course these are not the only differences, but it’s a pretty good chunk of what differentiates parks from nature preserves. Some other differences include:

  • The wildlife: Parks aren’t typically very diverse, and you usually won’t find a lot of different animals and plants in them. For the most part, parks have a few different types of ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees. Nature preserves on the other hand are filled with different kinds of birds, bugs and plants! For example, Shuffletown Prairie is home to more than 120 different plant species alone!
  • The level of development: Where parkland is purchased specifically to be developed for recreation purposes, nature preserves are mostly undeveloped land. We strive to keep the nature preserves in place for their ecological value and really only provide amenities (such as hard surface trails and parking areas, for example) where they are appropriate. Another thing to note here is that nature preserves can’t be “made” – a property is either appropriate for a nature preserve or it’s not (meaning it has a ravine, creek, stream, prairie, pristine habitat or it doesn’t). Parks on the other hand can be created and designed to include certain amenities if you have the right space for it.

Pretty interesting, right? Now that you know the real difference between parks and nature preserves, it’s time for you to go visit one (or two, or three, or four). You can find a complete list of our parks and nature preserves at! We also encourage you to connect with Park and Rec on Facebook (our Nature Centers have a page too) so that you always have the inside scoop on what’s happening with our parks, nature preserves, and many other facilities.