Parks have never been more popular than they are right now. During the heightened stress, uncertainty, and anxiety associated with the COVID pandemic, and with most indoor pursuits locked down, the local park became our sanity, our respite, our place to walk, hike, be with family, and get fresh air. When services were cut elsewhere, our parks picked up the ball and ensured they continued in ways that we may have never imagined. Now that we are beginning our recovery, how can we help our parks fund all the services and increased usage seen over the past 18 months? Here are just a few ways:
Speak out. Just because they are getting more usage, don’t assume parks are getting more funding. Vying for budget and funding is more competitive than ever; it’s up to us as community members to help our elected officials understand how important parks are to us, and why they should continue and increase the support for parks. Look up your local government officials and send them a message. We need parks!
Share your stories. Let your park officials know how much the park helped you cope during the pandemic. Does your park use a hashtag on social media? Find out what it is and tag them in your social stories! Share the love, which may even help your park compete for funds.
Donate. Parks use donated funds to restore and improve their grounds, as well as replace old, outdated equipment. Renewing and maintaining equipment improves the aesthetic value of the park and makes it safer and more fun for families. If you are able to…make a donation to support your local park.
Raise Awareness. In addition to their ongiong programs, parks stepped up to support a number of essential services and unmet needs during the pandemic, from food support to creating/delivering activity kits to ensuring seniors didn’t feel isolated. If you aren’t already aware, ask your park about all their initiatives, they are so much more than the great green spaces you see!
Meet your friends for a workout. Parks provide a space to exercise and make friends, which can lead to fitness gatherings and group activities. The people you bring to the park may decide to form similar clubs, which leads to additional recreational opportunities within your area.
Volunteer! Your local park needs volunteers. From clean-up to maintenance, to hosting tours, there are a variety of fun ways to give back to your local park through volunteerism. Reach out and discover the many rewarding ways you can participate.
Join a Friends Group. One important model in developing community ownership over our public spaces is through the creation of a Park Friends group. Friends groups are generally formed by a group of citizens with common interests in the stewardship of a local park. Activities can include fundraising, volunteer work, financial support, and more. Ask your local park if a friends group already exists. If so, join in! If not, think about starting one. Many resources can be found online by searching for Friends Groups.
Parks and open space are essential for recreation, public health & wellness, economic development, and social equity. Yet parks are often the last places where cities invest money and the first places where they cut funding. And yet, when faced with a pandemic, our parks rose to the challenge with more services and support than ever before. We need parks, and our parks need us. How will you help?