Overlooking Golden Gate bridge is a great view for good therapy. Photo credit: Daniel Gorostieta

Green spaces in the pandemic blues: ‘Meet Me Outside’ at parks across the country

7 mins read

We probably do not have to explain the increased benefits that green spaces can provide during this public health crisis. But since our current recess is unclear, we implore you— go to the park.

Stress became the norm as we sat at home attempting to navigate the world of Zoom and no-hugs. In some groups, the pressure mounted more than others.

Before the pandemic, Blacks in the U.S. were reported to have experienced lower levels of anxiety in depression than whites. However, the social climate, along with the financial pressures of the shut down led to serious mental health issues amongst African Americans.

“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire,” said Sandra L. Shullman, president of the American Psychological Association, in a statement.

She continued. “Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders.”

Yet and still, we are all shaking off our pandemic of blues. I suggest a sprinkle of nature and easy access to public open spaces in the busiest metropolitan areas is what makes community parks so special. For many, they are a great equalizer—bringing people from all walks of life together to rest, mingle and play. Here are 12 green spaces and programs to help you snap back from the pandemic blues.

Falls Park: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Falls Park. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Much like its namesake, Falls Park in Sioux Falls is known for its waterfalls. Just north of the downtown area along the Big Sioux River, about 7,400 gallons of water per second cascade the 100 foot descent over the 128 acres best viewed via the park’s five-story observation tower.

“I may be biased, but I think South Dakota is one of the most beautiful places in the world,”  Capital Journal tweeted.

The Sioux Indigenous tribes first inhabited the land, and it hosts some of the city’s most historic buildings. Furthermore, Falls Park has programs available for people of all ages. Children six through nine can enjoy a variety of sports as well as Storyland Theater camp

Also, yoga and sunset fishing are on deck for teenagers 16 and up. South Dakota tweens have their choice of either learning how to fish while taking in breathtaking sunsets or downward-doggin’ into some stress relieving yoga. 

Adding to this, adults 18 and older can get their cardio on by joining Hydroriders club. Residents who enroll can enjoy cycling on a water bike while dancing to the beat of the hydrorider club drum. 

As the saying goes, old is gold. Seniors stimulate their minds by learning the basics of archery or spending a nice relaxing morning on a bird hike

Fairmount Park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fairmount Park boasts over 2,000 acres of natural landscapes. Two hidden gems within them are the hills and waterfront. Trails and woodlands are also within city boundaries. The Fairmount Park Conservancy proudly posted, “HELLO AUGUST! We’ve got a great lineup of hikes, yoga, birdwatching, and more in Fairmount Park and FDR this month.”

Their bragging rights are well-deserved. Visitors can pop in and go cycling or horseback riding. With two concert venues, this park is known for live music. The famed Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philadelphia Zoo sit at the gateway of the park. For those wanting to take a zen, scenic route, there is the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden within the same vicinity. 

Forest Park: St. Louis, Missouri

With 1,300 acres of a whopping 45,000 trees and natural reserves, it is not hard to see how Forest Park got its name. The lakes and streams are the icing on top of this beautiful park. The popular green space has been around since 1876. Interestingly, the park hosted the World’s Fair in 1904.

It’s massive, with trails that go on forever, tons of kids running around, bodies of water all over the place, and surprising non-bloodthirsty mosquitoes,” boasted travel writer, Jada Yuan. Indeed, it is enough to stretch your bones and put your mind at ease.

Each year, more than 12 million visitors come to enjoy the ecosystems and natural spaces. All of which are connected with a dual path system that allows for leisurely walks on one side and jogging or workouts on the other. 

Forest Park: Portland, Oregon

Forest Park in Oregon stretches across 5,200 emerald acres with more than 80 miles of trails and seven miles of sloping land alongside the Tualatin Mountains, overlooking the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Portland’s Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the United States.

If you feel like giving back to mother nature, the Forest Park Conservancy recently created the Greater Forest Park Conservation Initiative. Volunteers will have the opportunity to participate in their trail program and work to maintain the park. If that is really not your speed, you can always volunteer to restore the park’s plant life by joining the Canopy Weed Program. Partakers of this program will work to reduce wildfire risks by removing non-native weeds from the park. 

“Urban forests provide important environmental, social, and economic benefits,” tweeted Oregon Forestry. 

Patterson Park: Baltimore, Maryland

African American women started the cottage industry of florists. Because work options were limited, women too the craft of arranding vivid floral bouquets and wreaths then selling them on the street. Baltimore’s Patterson Park captures some of the flowers and greenery used. Photo credit: Taofek obafemi Babatunde

Steeped in history, Patterson Park was the site where American soldiers stood during the battle of North Point at Hampstead Hill during the War of 1812. It later served as an Army hospital during the Civil War. These days this park is home to neighborhood schools and residents who come to enjoy its 133 lush acres. 

You can also catch active community members gardening and farming, as the park prides itself on its Baltimore City Farm program. It offers city residents and employees garden beds for rent. 

Whether you have a green thumb or not, this program gives you the opportunity to learn. Get your hands dirty and cultivate some vegetables, herbs and flowers.

This park also started an initiative that gives inner city children access to nature. The Greater Baltimore Children and Nature Collaborative (GBCAN) collaborated with Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) to give inner city children the opportunity to eat and grow fresh vegetables, as well as explore the development methods of the greenery around them. 

Golden Gate Park: San Francisco, California

California’s famous Golden Gate Park packs a lot of environmental attractions into its 1,017 acreage. It houses the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea House and Garden, the De Young Museum, and Golden Gate Aquarium, just to name a few.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum conserves more than 8,000 varieties of plants, both native and non-native. Visitors can also experience the oldest remaining municipal wooden conservancy in the United States — the Conservatory of Flowers, the gardens of which contain almost 2,000 plant species.

Balboa Park: San Diego, California

Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres contain 16 museums, a variety of performing arts venues and gardens. Hiking trails and the famous San Diego Zoo are also among popular draws.

The Alcazar Garden includes an abundance of seasonal plants and flowers, while the park’s Palm Canyon hosts more than 58 different species of palms within two acres. The mild climate and assortment of landscapes make Balboa Park a haven for hundreds of native and migratory birds, including great egrets and vibrantly colored hooded orioles.

Zilker Park: Austin, Texas

A 361-acre park in the heart of downtown Austin, Texas, Zilker Metropolitan Park is famous for its spring-fed waters. Visitors can swim in the thermal Barton Springs Pool, heated naturally to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, rent canoes or bikes, and enjoy a large playground for children.

The park also features an abundant botanical garden with fascinating themed gardens to explore. Along with a Japanese and an herb garden, there is also a prehistoric yard with real fossilized dinosaur tracks and life-sized sculptures hidden amongst the plants.

Piedmont Park: Atlanta, Georgia

Piedmont Park is a centralized green space connected to Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens and the Atlanta Beltline. Photo credit: iIera Isovic on Unsplash

In a part of Atlanta called Midtown sits the 180-acre Piedmont Park. The plush oasis in the buzzing Southern city stands out for wide open spaces at the Meadow, perfect for picnicking and eating popsicles from Atlanta staple King of Pops. There is also an amazing view of the city from Lake Clara Meer. Spread across the grounds is a greenmarket and community garden. 

There is really no limit to what you can do in this park. Everything from walking your fur baby in the dog park to visiting the Atlanta Botanical Gardens which is only a hop, skip and jump away.

Belle Isle: Detroit, Michigan

As its name would suggest, the Belle Isle is, a beautiful island wedged in the Detroit River abutting the Canadian border. The island rocks incredible views of both the Motor City and Windsor, Ontario, with landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted. 

A city park for 169 years, locals love its paved paths and mountain bike trails that lead to a “secret” beach. There’s also a lake for kayaking or ice skating and a functioning plant conservatory. As well there is an aquarium and a yacht club. 

Gathering Place: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa’s Riverfront Park is used for a wide range of family-friendly recreational activities, such as a massive adventure playground and elevated skywalk forest.

The park is also committed to enhancing the local River Parks system with ecology revitalization programs that plant native trees onsite. Currently, there are two 300-foot land bridges to connect the park with the riverfront, allowing for a continuous canopy over the roadway and a safe passage for animals.

Boston Common: Boston, Massachusetts

During the summer, Boston Common’s Frog Pond offers a wading pool for the kiddies as well as a picnic spot for grown-ups. In the winter, it transforms into a skating rink. 

The adjoining Boston Public Garden on the west side of the park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and was America’s first public garden, and features historical monuments. More than that, there are over 600 varieties of trees and original swan boats, which have been around for over 140 years. As you stroll along the paved paths and weeping willows, elegant bridges will transport you to an idyllic painting. 

For some, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. For others, a breath of fresh air in the midst of trees can ease indoor melancholy. These 12 urban gems are all worth the visit. Get up, get out, and go experience them before summer’s end.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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