Birds and trees and rivers and grass and paths - and of course, parks - are nice and everything, but do they also play an important role in keeping us sane and happy? There are many who believe they do. With the publication of Florence Williams’ “The Nature Fix” in 2017, along with other recent works about the restorative power of the natural worlds, we are learning more and more about the importance of Earth’s outdoor environments in terms of our emotional well-being.
That’s the topic of a talk to be given next weekend in Petaluma by Melanie Parker, Deputy Director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. Titled “Why Parks Matter,” the talk will take place at the Petaluma Arts Center, one of several events the PAC is presenting as part of its current exhibition, “The National Parks Plein Air Project,” a series of 60 paintings by Petaluma artist Mary Fassbinder. Each of the works in the show was painted in one of the United States’ 60 national parks. Of course, a park does not have to boast an El Capitan, an Old Faithful geyser or a Grand Canyon in order to work its natural magic on the stressed and strained public.
According to Parker, parks of all sizes and shapes are not just appealing and attractive.
They are vital.
“We’ve always known that parks are important,” Parker said last week, speaking on the phone from her office in Santa Rosa, “but we are learning more about why and how, and how there is a deficit of certain kinds of parks and trails. As I like to say, parks are not a nicety, they are a necessity. They are truly part of the fiber of our lives.”
Deciding on the specific topic of her upcoming talk in Petaluma was easy, Parker allows.
“I was called and asked if I’d come to speak,” she said, “and I immediately said yes. I said, ‘I love talking about why parks matter, because a lot of people know that - they know why parks matter to them - but they rarely step back and notice how parks matter from a societal or cultural perspective.’ And from that came the title of the talk.”
Parker further explained that a portion of her presentation will cover “quantifiable public benefits” of parks, from the obvious health and fitness effects of being outdoors to the seen-and-unseen economic benefits of attracting large numbers of people to parks, with all of the potential outdoor activities, attractions and events they make possible.
“We are obviously in the business of managing our parks system in Sonoma County,” Parker continued, “and we want to keep people excited about their parks, and keep finding ways to help them understand the value of these resources. I hope that the talk will become a bit of a conversation, as well, with people telling me about why parks matter to them, and what they want to be getting from all of their local parks.”
Petaluma, she mentioned, is the home of Sonoma County’s newly opened Tolay Lake Regional Park, located about 8 miles southeast of the downtown area.
“It’s now Sonoma County’s largest park,” Parker said. “It’s 3,400 acres. It’s a phenomenal place. In Sonoma County we have a whole spectrum, from little ‘pocket parks’ and community playgrounds all the way to the big, beautiful Tolays of the world.”
PLANNING TO GO?
What: ‘Why Parks Matter,’ a talk by Melanie Parker
When: Thursday, March 7, 7 p.m.
Where: Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville St.
Admission: $12 non-members, $10 members.