Opinion: Parks Have Been our Refuge During the Pandemic. Using Them Responsibly Is the Only Way to Keep Them Open.
The CEO of Austin Parks Foundation asks you to respect our green space and the PARD staff working to maintain it
As our community has joined together to combat COVID-19 by staying home over these past few months, we will forever be indebted to our essential workers who have risked their lives so we can all stay home and be safe. Austin is filled with heroes – nurses and doctors, first responders, grocery store employees, transit drivers, mail carriers, chefs, restaurant workers, and city employees – providing the critical services that keep Austin running.
We would be remiss not to mention the heroes who are our city Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) staff. These are the fine people who mow the grass, empty the garbage, plant and care for trees and flowers, and keep our trails clear and in good condition. On behalf of everyone at Austin Parks Foundation and Austinites all across this city – thank you, PARD, for maintaining our parks, now and always. They are critical to our city and our identity as Austinites.
This pandemic has forced us all to consider what is really important and what is necessary. We don't need many of the things we did before all of this, but I think we can agree, we need our parks and green spaces now more than ever.
No matter where you live in Austin, our city parks, trails, and open spaces have been our common source of refuge during this pandemic. They are where we run and bike for exercise, walk, and meditate for our mental health, sit and marvel at the plants and animals that call our city home, and where we watch our kids run and play to have some semblance of normalcy during these extraordinary times. For many in our community, parks provide the only available and accessible natural space. I think we can all agree that we are lucky to live in a city with such an abundance of green spaces for all to enjoy. Keeping these spaces vibrant and open is more important than ever.
As restrictions ease, please remember: You play a critical role in keeping these spaces available to everyone. During this time, parks have rules just like the rest of the city – keep six feet away from people not in your household; don't touch structures and equipment like playscapes, swings, tables, and benches; wear a face covering if you are not exercising; abide by park rules and stay off of amenities that are closed; follow directional signs; and of course, stay home if you feel sick. Above all else, please respect PARD employees and park rangers as they enforce these rules. They are simply doing their jobs, and it's up to all of us to safely use these spaces so they can continue to support us. Using our cherished open spaces responsibly is your way of helping ensure they stay accessible to all.
As you venture out today, please don't take our parks for granted. Remember that there are hardworking people nurturing these spaces and they deserve our gratitude and support. If we are to continue to be a city that values our parks and open spaces, and the myriad mental and physical benefits they provide, we must be good stewards of the outdoors – today for our neighbors and tomorrow for future generations.
Colin Wallis is CEO of Austin Parks Foundation.
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