Submitted by Maria Ruth and Barbara Benson for Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee
Now more than ever our public parks have shown themselves to be essential to our community’s well-being. Cities across the U.S. saw surging numbers of park goers this summer as people sought places for recreation and relaxation outdoors. With Autumn at our doorstep, our parks will continue to serve us well.
It is not a matter of luck, but of generations of intentional effort by the City of Olympia and its residents, that the capital city now boasts 48 parks across 1,342 acres of parkland and, since 2002, Olympia’s Parks Department has prioritized putting us all within just a 10-minute walk of a park.
Olympia Parks Department recognized the importance of having our public green spaces and trails available to our community during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to reopen our parks in April with some restrictions and with safety guidelines posted at park entrances and trailheads. Numbers of park goers surged in parks all across the country this summer. Because Olympia considers parks as essential infrastructure—not as perks—our abundant parks were well used but rarely crowded this summer.
Years of research have shown that connecting with nature has both physical and mental health benefits. A 20-minute walk in nature can actually boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve your immune system. Perhaps instead of chasing the ephemeral “15 minutes of fame,” we should all be striving for at least 20 minutes of daily renewal in one of Olympia’s beautiful parks. Acknowledging fellow park goers with a smile (smiles show in our eyes) may go a long way to reduce feelings of isolation and disconnection we all feel from time to time, but especially now as social isolation has become a new normal.
Olympia Recreation Program staff has worked hard and creatively to safely resume many camps, outdoor youth and adult team sports, and other in-person activities this spring and summer. Some kids reported it was their best Camp Olywahoo summer yet—which brings us to the great news that the Rec Department and the Olympia School District have teamed up to offer “School Day Olywahoo” at Pioneer and Hansen Elementary Schools during the school year to help with our community’s needs for child care. The Rec Department is also offering paddle-boarding, yoga in the park, kayak trips, cartooning, ukulele, and more in-person and virtual recreation programming.
As our community faces a long and uncertain path forward in these challenging times, consider our city parks and rec programming your allies. Find your closest park, take a walk, connect with nature, smile at your fellow park goers, learn a new skill, share your ideas, build community, and garner strength for the days ahead.
Interactive maps of all Olympia’s city parks, information on upcoming recreation programs, and ways to share your ideas during the update of the Parks, Arts, and Recreation Plan for 2022 can be found on the Olympia Parks, Arts, and Recreation Department’s website.
Barbara Benson has lived in Olympia for 31 years and has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) since 2008. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, worked on the Western Institutional Review Board for 15 years and now serves on the board of the Angela J. Bowen Conservancy Foundation. Maria Ruth has lived in Olympia for 14 years. She is the current chair of PRAC, has authored of several books on natural history topics, and volunteers with Olympia Park Stewardship Program and South Sound Senior Services.