Magazine article Parks & Recreation

What Parks Mean to Me: Parks Connections Can Last a Lifetime

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

What Parks Mean to Me: Parks Connections Can Last a Lifetime

Article excerpt

AS A GRADUATE ASSISTANT, I have had the opportunity to be associated with a variety of research projects in the Oklahoma state park system. I was recently at an Oklahoma state park collecting data and conversing with visitors of all types, discussing their opinions related to environmental ethics, attachment to place, and recommendations to secure outdoor recreation for future generations. A frequently discussed topic is the role that a park has had or still has in the lives of these visitors; such a topic often leads me to spending extended periods of time listening to memories retold. It is interesting to hear the various roads and routes people take in life and how and when parks intertwine with such importance. In a way I expected, but still was taken by surprise, when I was asked by a tent camper what parks meant to me. At the time I lightly touched base on some generic viewpoints I hold dear as to why parks are important, but I limited my response to avoid personal introspection and continuing on a conversation that had already lasted for half an hour. Most park users are social and they thoroughly enjoy spending evening hours discussing whatever is on their mind.

It took introspection to understand that while I valued parks, I had underestimated their role in my life. As a child, I was what most people would deem a "normal" boy, as I loved being outside and getting dirty. As a youth, my family lived in rural areas and my brother and dog were my fellow explorers as we wandered through the piney woods and discovered every element of the lakeshore. We were enveloped in nature, the woods were our backyard, and the lake was our local playground. As children, we caught every animal we could get our hands on, lifted every moveable rock, fished every nook and cranny, and memorized various mazes through the trees. Often we would return home hours later caked with grime and dirt and would receive the water hose treatment before my mom would permit us to walk through the house to the bathroom.

We attempted to create pets from wild reptiles and grow plants from seeds we found in an abandoned shed nearby. Our family was poor, but our parents were fantastic in that they never restricted our interaction with nature, despite my mother's winces when we would return home cut or gashed from our adventures. We never visited a "park" per se, but rather created our own as we connected to nature in our own way.

As we grew older and moved several miles across the southwest, we began to travel more often, including state parks, wilderness areas, lakes, wildlife refuges, and the like. Before I ever knew the concept of "leave no trace," my parents instilled in me the idea that we should always leave every place in better shape than we found it. This philosophy still pervades as I continue to pick up trash when I visit parks when staying as a researcher or visitor.

To me, parks are a place of respite, they represent everything each of us should seek, a place to forget obligations and enjoy the beautiful places that our society was progressive enough to set aside for enjoyment. While our society often seeks other outlets to overlook obligations, I revel in hearing the birds chirp their daily songs, watching leaves blow in the fall breeze, and lying on a cool bed of grass tucked under the shade of an old red oak. …

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