Opinion: Time to be heard on future of North Clackamas parks
My daughter and I have always enjoyed visiting regional parks and natural areas.
Though we do not yet have a neighborhood park, thankfully, we were usually able to drive to other area parks to enjoy the trees and leaves; explore and meet bugs, squirrels and birds; stop to smell the fresh air; and listen for the song of the wind passing through. Through disability and hardship, nature settles both of us and gives us the hope to keep going.
Just over a year ago, we lost our little preschool community when COVID closed the schools, and within a few weeks my 4-year-old was truly sad, missing her friends, family and routine.
Nature has always been so soothing and healing for her and so I knew that I needed to somehow keep her among the trees and birds. With the pandemic restrictions and my own disabilities, 1 mile felt like 1,000 miles, and I was unable to get far from our home.
When COVID hit, and the most important thing we could do to curb the spread was to first stay home and then at least stay as close to home as possible, we really felt the absence of having a neighborhood park.
Once parks reopened, we were hesitant to visit parks in other neighborhoods so as to not contribute to COVID spread. We took short walks in our neighborhood and visited the nearby open field that has been earmarked for a neighborhood park for 20 years.
This open field is called the Justice Property and it has been listed on the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District (NCPRD) list of future development sites for quite some time.
Purchased from Mr. Justice in 1993, Clackamas County initially wanted to acquire the parcel next to it to create a wonderful community park. However, those owners were not interested in selling, and you can't blame them because they have a lovely and convenient location. But truly, their property is not needed to make a perfect neighborhood park.
Over the past three years that I have been talking to the parks district and neighbors, I've learned that there even used to be a sign hanging on the property announcing a future park location.
My initial inquiry into the property was in 2018, and due to the property abutting 122nd Avenue, owned by Happy Valley, the Justice Property was sitting in limbo during the NCPRD and HV lawsuit.
And so I waited, impatiently, for the lawsuit to conclude and for NCPRD to be ready for citizen involvement so that my daughter and I could volunteer our time advocating for our neighborhood park.
In the meanwhile, we visited the Justice property and envisioned the future of a sweet playground, pollinator garden, rain garden, meandering trail and smiling at our neighbors as we shared this much-needed meeting place.
Neighborhood parks are like the hearts of communities. I longed to have a place to leave a vase of extra garden flowers, a place to meet local joggers, to stretch in the sun and slosh in the rain.
As we continue to live through this pandemic, peeking our heads above ground like the hopeful groundhog in February, there is such human longing to connect, strengthen our communities and get to know the neighbors.
During the recent catastrophic ice storms, I was reminded how important it is to know your neighbors and to band together in adversity. Our area lacks a physical meeting ground for us to build these connections.
Several studies have illustrated that "parks do more than providing people with opportunities for physical activity and improving their health and well-being," as shown by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121520.
The heart and soul of the community, parks enable "people to develop a genuine and emotional connection to the world around them and to themselves."
Consistent with my personal experience, spending time in parks is "motivated by humans' deep desire to connect with their loved ones, but also with a larger community around them, with nature, and with their inner selves.
This finding is aligned with decades of psychological research that has identified connection as one of the most fundamental human needs that allows people to flourish and feel seen, heard and valued for who they are."
I can think of no more important time than during and after a pandemic, for all neighborhoods to focus on connection through nature and parks.
With the increased unincorporated representation voice, we will be advocating with our neighbors to make our dream of Justice Property Park come true because a park is for everybody, whether we vote the same or not. Our kids can play together no matter what languages we speak.
Let us come together to support the next steps to seeing more neighborhood parks in the under-parked unincorporated areas of the NCPRD.
My drive to see the Justice property come to fruition led me to meet a group of motivated community members, and I have been happy to volunteer my time supporting the final stages of the new NCPRD District Advisory Committee (DAC) implementation.
Once the proportional representation DAC is seated in May, and advising the NCPRD governing board about the districtwide interests and priorities of the residents, I look forward to seeing Justice Park plans move forward quickly, and to our neighborhood becoming a place with a strong heart, connecting us through nature and appreciation.
With your participation now, we can take our community parks to the next level. Please join us April 6 for the public meeting and then subsequent vote for your DAC representatives later in April.
To stay informed about parks-related information, events and volunteer opportunities, please fill out the form at tinyurl.com/59qou23r.
Four of the NCPRD five subareas have been identified in the unincorporated part of the district, so that representatives from each subarea will be able to guide NCPRD based on the views of constituents districtwide.
Check out ncprd.com/district-advisory-committee to find out which subarea you're in, and please preregister in advance of the April 6 public Zoom meeting at clackamascounty.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUvcOurrT4tE9QXJN9lig387kU5HU6Jjz-U.
I am looking forward to meeting with my neighbors and community members in April and beyond. Hope to see you there!
Lindsay Freedman is a mom, gardener and child advocate who is passionate about access to parks and natural spaces.
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