Parks: The Human Wilderness

Parks and ponds are good by day;

I do not delight

In black acres of the night,

Nor my unseasoned step disturbs

The sleeps of trees or dreams of herbs.

                                                                                     –R. W. Emerson


Some goodly time has passed since the last challenge.  I wonder if this month’s subject isn’t a bit out of time, as we in the north are going to turn inward more than outward.  Nonetheless, I’ll charge on.


For this challenge, I’d like to turn your attention beyond your backyard—unless you’re lucky enough to have one of these adjoin your property.  I’m talking about your friendly neighborhood park.


Sure, it’s probably got a playground with the de rigeur equipment, perhaps a ball field (soccer or base), a disc golf course, or some kind of dog run.  It might be tree less or nearly so.  Full of trash?  Just a corner lot in the middle of the city?

Typical park landscape

Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan


That doesn’t matter.  You’re sure to find something of interest with some diligent exploration.


Parks, as far as I can tell, originated among the rich in Europe, specifically in England (though I bet some Chinese and Japanese emperors had some) as a place to ride horses and hunt game.  They were surrounded with thick hedges to keep the game in…and the commoners out.


Game animal or park visitor? Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan

Game animal or park visitor?
Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan


In the U.S., the claim for the first public park was the famed Boston Common, established in 1634 for the purposes of military training and a public place for grazing animals (You might want to check out Garret Hardin’s noted essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” as a loosely related aside).


Over time, the idea of parks became associated with leisure.  They were established as littles oases, specifically for urban dwellers, a break from the duties and distractions of mundanity.


Today, we’ve got tiny pocket parks owned and operated by cities and towns (urban, suburban, and rural) to county, state, and national parks.


What kind of park exists in your neighborhood?


Natural areas v. areas of human use

Natural areas v. areas of human use

You’ve probably explored the playground, but what is there beyond that?  What species of trees grow in and around the park?  Do flowers and native grasses grow naturally in some areas?  What birds and mammals frequent the area?


Here’s a perfect opportunity to get to know the flora and fauna of your neighborhood.

If your park is not much beyond a turf grassland, the species are probably limited.  If you’re interested you might be able to change that.  Talk to the your parks and recreation department about creating strips of native vegetation.


Does a stream or river flow through or next to your park?  What kind of vegetation grows there?  Most parks use the paradigm of mowing right up to the streambank.  That practice, however, lends itself to erosion, and, of course, limits biodiversity.  Talk to the managers about the best practices for streambank stabilization.


How can you protect your park?

How can you protect your park?

Take advantage of the large green space in your neighborhood.  Help your children to identify trees, birds, and insects that pass through or reside.  Learn to love your park and understand ways that can help increase it’s natural areas.


You don’t have to let nature take over the whole park, but balance can be created for human use as well as for the non-humans.


Explore, learn to care for your park, and work to restore some of the natural areas, if possible.  You’ll increase the beauty and the value of your neighborhood while doing the right thing.

Look for the extraordinary ordinary in your neighborhood park.

Look for the extraordinary ordinary in your neighborhood park.