Submitted to the Dallas Morning News today….
Funding for Local Parks Grants needs to join the State Parks program in receiving strong support in this year’s budget. While the State Parks have received a positive boost through a recommendation of additional funding to avoid closures, the Local Parks program looks to be in danger for this budget cycle. That, despite the presence of a dedicated - but under-utilized - funding source in the “Sporting Goods Tax”.
Moving to Plano as a youth, after a childhood spent outdoors, I found nothing to entice me outside. I turned inward and focused on my studies; perhaps that was for the best. But I felt lost. A part of me was missing. It was the Spring Creek Forest Preserve in Richardson/Garland, a 2001 recipient of a Local Parks Grant, that taught me that even Dallas can have its wild places. I did not have to be spiritually lost in the concrete wilderness.
After some time away from DFW, I now live on the south side of Dallas County, where the many preserves and parks have been critical to maintaining my personal well-being. My favorite places are Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center at Cedar Hill and Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas; Audubon was a 2010 recipient of a Local Parks Grant for their wonderful Eco-Investigations program for local elementary and middle school children. A hidden gem in the heart of South Oak Cliff is the Joppa Preserve; it will soon be linked to many miles of additional trails and parks through the College Park and Five-Mile Creek project, which is being made possible with the help of a substantial Local Parks Grant (2009). Parks and programs such as these serve thousands of children and adults each year; their continued vitality and even expansion are critical for the health of individuals, our community, and even our local economy.
While my personal faith plays an important role in helping keep me indifference to the ills of society, it is these Texas natural spaces that allow me to breathe and connect with a feeling of the divine; to feel that I am but a small part of the natural order; to re-discover the wonder of an ant-lion nest or to admire the fall color in prairie grasses as well as trees. Transcendence comes easily in the redwoods, but it is also to be found under the shade of a mighty pecan tree or in studying the chalk layers revealed by our Dallas-area creeks. We need these places to keep us whole, to keep our minds sharp, our creativity stimulated, and our anxieties at bay. This is not merely personal anecdote, but also proven science: humans thrive best in settings that allow proximity to “nature”, however that might be defined. Without these spaces, I could not bear to remain in Texas - it would not be the land I love, but just another Sprawl.