Over my years near riverside parks I’ve hiked sanctuaries with birders, lunched with friends on shady picnic tables, played with grandchildren in sandy playgrounds, and biked to meetings near riverfronts. Recently I re-experienced how wonderful they are for the interpersonal and physical health of us and our communities.
After not commuting for months while my health improved, I considered biking to a meeting across town. The weather would be below 60 degrees. I needed to leave a little earlier, bring papers and lock my bike. Solving each obstacle increased my commitment to a relaxed, safe ride. I could have prepared better.
Most of the trip was on the Apple Capital Loop Trail, paved pathways isolated from traffic along and across the Columbia River. The cool breezes brushed my face, sandpipers and swallows chirped overhead and the mighty Columbia streamed under the pipeline bridge. Trails led me to a two block ride up 5th street to my meeting.
The ride invigorated me, a refreshing alternative to a typically pleasant trip securely sealed inside my car and electronically soothed by classical music or an audio book. I didn’t know it then, but two wonders would greet me on the return.
After the meeting I walked my bike through crosswalks until I could safely coast back to the riverfront to discover my first wonder , a volunteer under her shady hat, Charlene Edwards, the 77-year-old park angel reported in the Wenatchee World. She cheerfully exercises in parks with a trash pick-up stick, allowing her to snatch litter off the ground without bending over and stuff it into a plastic bag without touching it. I couldn’t resist stopping.
She discounted her service. “There are other people who do it. They tell me so. There’s one on the eastside of the Trail. I think people would volunteer to be friends of the parks.”
After bidding Charlene good morning, I headed south past the miniature train station toward a boat ramp where people stood, gazing upward. Curiosity dragged me to another stop.
I immediately regretted overlooking items for my backpack. I’d packed warm gloves to soften the grips on the handlebar, a windbreaker to block out the cold, a folder to share at the meeting and a lock to secure my bike, but I forgot a camera and binoculars for close-up views of a bird’s nest blanketing the top of a light pole where the morning sun bathed an osprey standing guard while waiting for a partner to return with food for two chicks.
After my ride Charlene’s comment about friends of parks led to a phone call to Sally Brawley, recently appointed Director of Eastmont Parks and Recreation, the agency contracted with local municipalities to maintain the Trail’s east shoreline. Brawley said. “I had a couple who moved here from the Westside and wanted to be part of a group to maintain the trail. They’re an extra set of eyes for us.”
Volunteers also help clean Eastmont Park where her office is located. “In the morning we frequently see people with bags pick up litter and put it in a waste container. It’s not anything we’ve done.”
She said there are formal Friends of Parks in other areas of the state. “I’d love to see a network of people who are ‘Friends of Kenroy, or Tedford, who have ideas for the park in their neighborhood. I have plans for such groups in future development. No volunteer yet has said, ‘I’ll put this together.’” My guess is she’ll find somebody, inspired after a stroll through their park.
Parks are invaluable community assets. What a self-delivered gift it is to enjoy them as individuals and communities as they make healthier and more prosperous. What a joy it is to greet people who share them, volunteers who clean them, gardeners who cultivate them, workers who maintain them, and inspired leaders who envision, create and sustain them.
Our great nation’s economy is going to hunker for a few years, but we must keep our access to parks open in the process.