I Love My Park
A week ago was the 5th annual I Love My Park Day in New York State. I joined a decent number of my colleagues from work (DASNY) at Thacher Park, near Albany, NY, to maintain some trails and move piles of mulch at play areas. Other staff volunteered at the FDR 4 Freedoms Park in NYC, and in other parks nearer to their homes across the state. It was a gorgeous day, the park was inviting, the work was reasonably tasking (not too hard or too much, not too little) and we could include our families, so it was a truly enjoyable experience.
Some quick history: NYS Parks started this yearly event when our state budget concerns were so severe that they planned to shut down many parks, or have reduced hours due to lack of maintenance money or staff. Many protests took place, planned by local, involved community members who knew the value of parks and open accessible-to-all spaces. The communities saved a significant number of parks, and the resultant movement has helped us to realize the parks are better and stronger and more sustainable when the community is directly engaged in their success. Volunteers tend the parks, and the community that does take part has a palpable investment which increases their appreciation of that site. The rest rooms, lifeguards, food service, and historic info is all still funded by state and municipal budgets. The maintenance budget is still reduced, but thankfully does not cripple the park, as it somehow invites caring people into the work. There is a valuable lesson, here, that most parents already know. If you work for something you love it, care for it, and even honor it. If you are handed something, there can be a lack of appreciation and a resentment that it is not as perfect as it could have been. I love my park, today and every day, and a bit of hands-to-work only makes me love it more.
Back to the present. Unfortunately, I’m now nursing a wicked case of poison ivy (and I’ve had a few days of not really liking my park)! I don’t mean to say don’t go outside. I do mean to point out a couple more lessons I have learned.
First, nothing is 100% perfect. I’m sure some participants got blisters, some pulled a tight muscle and some, like me, ended up with a bite or a rash. But this relatively small inconvenience did not ruin the day.
Second, from personal experience, I would say that our mild 2015/16 winter and the changes in climate are making some plants and critters more potent. One brush with a leaf (I can see the track on my leg) and my entire thigh has exploded in a rash worse than any I have had before. If I lived near the ocean, where I grew up, I’d spend a few days in the salt water and be miraculously cured, but in upstate NY it requires a decent mix of washing, drying, peroxides and calamine along with lots of gauze and tape. Poison plants such as ivy and sumac may not only become a bit more potent, but will have longer seasons of affect, and the hotter, moister weather will make it that much tougher to dry out rashes and heal.
So this all leads to the third lesson – Mother Nature requires our participation and our respect. This means when we play with her, we need proper preparation and we must clean up afterward. We need to have proper tools, clothing and safety gear. We need to not only clean up our work, our litter, our tracks, but ourselves, with an eye toward finding ticks and scouring nasty poison oils from our skin. We must, of course, protect ourselves appropriately from the start with light-colored clothes when in tick areas and decent ivy barrier creams when we go into infested woods. And, yes, I will learn that one someday.
Love your parks and wild places, and they will love you back!