Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
A Walk in the Park
As summer draws to a close, I can’t help but notice how many friends have opted for a vacation close to home this summer at state parks chosen over stressful air travel and pricey faraway destinations.
At the same time, however, state parks face an uncertain future across the country. California’s state parks appear to be the most in peril, with more than one-third of its 279 parks facing closure by Labor Day to help reduce a budget gap of $26 billion. Colorado, Arizona and Washington also face fiscal shortfalls that have forced officials to close or cut services at parks or trails.
While realizing that desperate times can call for desperate measures, it’s hard to ignore the potential impact that cuts to publicly funded open spaces like state parks can have on children and families. One study of three generations of 9-year-olds found that by 1990 the radius from the house in which they were allowed to roam freely was only one-ninth as great as it had been in 1970. A 2008 study by the University of Michigan found memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature but not after walking down city streets. Asthma, ADHD and myopia have all been shown to diminish in children who spend more time outdoors.
The news is not all bad: In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn reversed his predecessor’s decision to close seven state parks and had them back up and running by spring. There is broad support for the No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 that would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) to include environmental education for the first time. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized free, unstructured play as helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones, as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.
Horticulturists and educators at the Wildflower Center are at work developing its soon-to-be-built children’s garden, which will help provide this type of play in a hands-on garden with an emphasis on native plants. Funds are now being raised to make this natural playscape a reality.
As a parent who was 9 in the 1970s, when children could roam more freely, it’s impossible for me not to compare that outdoor freedom to that which my small children do and will enjoy. I recently told my mother about a bike ride I used to take that was about five miles round-trip from our home through a nearby park when I was in the eighth grade. She was surprised, as she probably had never thought to ask where I was going off to ride, and we remarked about how no parent in their right mind would let a child go off alone like that these days.
If my children and your children or grandchildren can’t do such things on their own, they still have a right to explore the outdoors. Do what you can to help them stay healthy, fit and smart from the benefits of the great outdoors, if not by supporting funding for state parks then by donating to initiatives like the Wildflower Center’s children’s garden or urging politicians to enact laws like the No Child Left Inside Act.
Eventually, your children will stop whining about the TV being turned off and thank you.
– Christina Kosta Procopiou, Editor