Friday, May 11, 2012
Connecting People to Nature Should Be a Key Goal in Any City Parks Master Plan
Currently Jim Carrillo of Halff Associates, Inc. is assisting the City's Parks and Recreation Department with its updating of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. I just emailed Jim the following ideas:
We tend to think about parks and recreation in very two-dimensional, traditional ways: green spaces for playing and picnics and sports fields and facilities for organized games and senior and community activities which are carefully planned and directed. All of this is good and as it should be but then we set our goals based on this two-dimensional model only. Perhaps a model that adds a dimension of relating us to our natural world can open us up to some new possibilities.
You may already know about the Green Gym program in Great Britain. If not, you can get acquainted here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZ81ToYh3Cc. There’s a longer clip but with more explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT3xJO4lSqs&feature=related. The btcv green gym web page: http://www2.btcv.org.uk/display/greengym. Green Gym is just one example of many ways in which to involve people in the outdoors with conservation by tackling a wide-range of projects. It need not be limited to a municipal parks and recreation department – but such a department is a good place for this kind of program. Also this kind of program suggests others and is merely a “manifestation” of many ways in which people are re-connecting with nature: community and neighborhood gardens, permaculture and so forth.
There must be a number of ways in which people can become more involved in animal habitat. This weekend our local Audubon group will visit two El Paso parks: Memorial and Billy Rogers Arroyo Park. Imagine if there could be more birdhouse programs, bat houses built, citizens planting trees. Even simple storm water management programs with “rain barrel” technology would be good.
I suggest that we involve more people in more nature-oriented projects most of which would be grass-root generated by citizens and their organizations.
Obviously the City of El Paso has set a goal to have healthier, less obese people. There is even a new walking program in the downtown area. It’s a bit tame – but a start. Many of our parks can be “connected” merely by defining walkways that people can use between and among neighborhoods with signage similar or not to that used for the downtown walking program. This same kind of park to park path-finding can be utilized to connect parks with natural open space. From our nice neighborhood park (Newman) we are easily connected on Sunday mornings to the natural open space that leads into the Franklin Mountains State Park at the other end of Scenic Drive. The City should identify other walkways to close on Sundays so that bicyclers, walkers, joggers and even Chihuahuas (on leashes of course) can wend their way from one point to another and even into a number of trailheads leading to the State Park without the presence of motorized vehicles. The use of GPS devices can be tied to City guided tours overseen by Parks and Recreation. Geocaches at various parks and at trailheads can encourage exploration and adventure.
Certainly where utility easements and other “paths” can be used as walkways, they should be.
One of our biggest natural assets in the City – one that holds tremendous potential as an eco-tourist and eco-tourist dollar magnet – is the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. It is amazing that no dollars are dedicated to it and that it isn’t even mentioned in our Quality of Life Bond wish list. No effort is being made to solve its agonizing water problem and the current Parks and Recreation policy seems to be happy with letting UTEP manage the program on their own. The Park is part of our Parks and Recreation inventory and is a jewel of a place for relating people to nature.
And, of course, neighborhood and community gardens should be fostered. Tomorrow we open a new garden at Vista del Valle Park. It should be a prototype and the beginning of more such gardens around the City and an integral part of the Parks and Recreation program. Along with more community gardens should be an emphasis on ethnobotany – native plants that can be foraged for nutrition and medicinal purposes. I lived for 18 years in the Issaquah, Washington area. Along one boulevard were apple trees which people would pick from in the fall. Imagine re-connecting with mesquite beans, chokeberries and prickly pears. Imagine a “recreation” of milling and canning and not just bingo and dominoes.
Bottom line: I’m suggesting that the added dimension to any Parks and Recreation Plan be ways to connect people to Nature and get them involved with conservation, ecology and environmental protection. It would be a program that would help re-build the eco-system that we have so damaged or destroyed not just in El Paso but in cities and towns everywhere.