Thursday, April 19, 2012

For the children...

               Recently it seems that the state of California is determined to shut down seventy-one of our state parks in an effort to stem their hemorrhaging money loss.  I could go into all of the politics behind it but in all honesty I’m not a political guy.  I’m just a guy who grew up going to some of these parks and has found myself working in the industry.   One of the parks closing down was the site of my very first camping trip with my family way back when I was around seven.  I’ve been to a few of these others but really why are we denying our future generations the opportunity to see these parks?  Why are the parks the thing to suffer here? 

                The parks systems of the states, local counties and cities are the backbone of our history and it blows me away that a state can simply close the doors and walk away.  The parks allow the future generations to experience things that are quickly being gobbled up by the fast food mentality, video games, Wikipedia, and apathy.  If we close these opportunities off to a generation that only got to get its collective toes wet by seeing images on their latest Wikipedia search there will come a time when no one in a given generation will ever set foot in a park. 

                The invention of GPS has already made the map reading skills I learned as a child obsolete.  Kids nowadays wouldn’t be able to find their way out of a paper bag without their GPS.  Parks give girls and boys the opportunity to learn about some of these ‘ancient’ ways.  Parks allow them to touch and see and experience history.  Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  Parks give a family the opportunity to come together and for a few hours, a day or longer be together. 

                “Alice algae and Freddy fungi took a liching to each other and now their relationship is on the rocks”

                Funny right?  I learned this from a park ranger at a park when I was around 10.  I have never forgotten it.  Why would we look to deprive our children on this sort of education?   I’ve used the saying in my Environmental Science class midterm essay.  I’ve used it to teach my own children and at least a few other times while working.  Seriously though how do we expect our kids to keep from paving over the entire continent if we don’t instill in them a love/appreciation of the outdoors?

                This love doesn’t have to be developed through nights out camping or even a hike.  The municipal park is just as important as the big national forests or state parks.  Locally, our municipal parks have been shut down due to funding.  Kids can’t even go to a park to play.  That is simply insane and wrong on so many levels I find myself speechless.   Have the politicians forgotten what it was like to be a child and go to the park with the family to enjoy a picnic, a romp through the playgrounds, or rolling around the grass? 

                In my work world I experience some really baffling behavior towards parks and while at times it can be exasperating I also see it as an opportunity to educate the public on what being a User of the park system entails and the responsibility they have to keep it clean and ready for the next User to come along.  I think that this is probably the most important aspect of my job and the jobs of everyone who works in the Parks, Recreation, or open space field.  Education.  We need to educate those who are to follow us.  Whether this is done through the parents or in our individual interactions with the children as they run through our parks is not the concern, the education is the important part.  I recently spoke to an individual who drove onto the grass at a park.  At first I was angry because I know how much work goes into the maintenance of that grass.  I spoke to driver of the car and treated them with respect while I explained why driving on the grass was not a good idea.  The driver hadn’t realized and was respectful and apologetic when he left.  My cynicism hasn’t quite grown to the point that I think he’ll just ignore me and do it again.  I feel like I got through to him and hopefully he’ll pass his education on to a friend or two and to his kids. 

                If we want to keep the Parks and Open Spaces of our cities, counties, and states open to the public and available to future generations we must make sure that the future generation understand what it means, enjoys it and wants to bring their children to the park.  That means we ALL must work together to keep them open.  Get involved on a local level, pick up bits of trash you might see lying along the path you’re walking on, find out if there are trail building days, participate, participate, participate.  Only by doing this and bringing your kids along will we be able to continue to enjoy the outdoors for generations to come.

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