By Katharine Lusk
Through a year of pandemic shutdowns and protests, Americans have rediscovered their public spaces. Homebound city dwellers sought havens in parks, plazas and reclaimed streets. Many of these places also became stages for protests against police violence and systemic racism in the U.S.
Mayors around the world have used this time to reimagine the use of public space. Will cities revert to familiar car-centric patterns, or build on the past year to create more outdoor spaces that are accessible and welcoming for all of their residents?
Beginning in June 2020 and continuing throughout the summer, our team at Boston University interviewed mayors in cities across the country as part of our annual Menino Survey of Mayors. We wanted to understand how they were grappling with the unprecedented challenges and stark inequities laid bare in 2020, and how they were thinking about repurposing the public realm.
Our newly released report, Urban Parks and the Public Realm: Equity & Access in Post-COVID Cities, supported by Citi, The Rockefeller Foundation and The Trust for Public Land, offers new insights into how the disruptions of this unprecedented year have shaped mayoral perspective on parks and streets.
Partial street closures early in the pandemic gave people in cities like Oakland, California, a taste of urban life less dominated by cars.
COVID-19 and racial protests have highlighted pervasive inequities in the U.S. One issue we examined was how mayors think about investing for equity in parks and green spaces.
Among the 130 mayors we interviewed, 70% believed all their residents, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, live within easy walking distance of a park or green space. This view may be somewhat optimistic.
Data developed by The Trust for Public Land shows that, on average, 64% of residents in the cities we surveyed live within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space. Our analysis of The Trust's ParkServe data for all U.S. cities with more than 75,000 residents showed that on average, 59% of white residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or green space, compared with 61% of Black or Hispanic residents and 57% of Asian residents. Mayors, particularly those in Northeast cities, acknowledged that not all neighborhoods had equal access to high-quality parks.
Another important question is how welcome residents feel in local public spaces. In our interviews, 77% of mayors believed their cities' parks were safe for all users. A similar proportion believed Black residents could use parks without fear of police.
But physical safety is not the only measure of accessibility. Racial and ethnic minorities may be discriminated against or feel socially and culturally excluded in some parks and public spaces. Widely publicized false assault charges by a white woman against a Black birder in New York's Central Park in October 2020 presented one prominent example.
"So long as people of color, and black men in particular, are seen as a potential danger, the issue of racial equit… https://t.co/O4CynYv9wk— Bloomberg CityLab (@Bloomberg CityLab)1590590548.0
Most Likely to Gain: Diners, Walkers and Bikers
Some local leaders capitalized on empty streets to accelerate long-planned projects or initiate new ones. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo made headlines with her decision to remove half of all street parking in Paris, add 50 kilometers (31 miles) of bike lanes and convert a major central roadway, Rue di Rivoli, to a cycling thoroughfare. These steps mark a fundamental shift toward a public realm that centers on people, not vehicles.
Similarly, one East Coast mayor told us that the need to maintain physical distance between people had prompted a call for more outdoor space:
"Fewer cars means more opportunities for public space. We're learning a lot about how to share public space and not just use it for cars – we worked to close roadways and people want to keep them."
Nearly half of the mayors we surveyed closed some roads to through traffic during the pandemic, and just under a third closed select streets to nearly all traffic. One prominent example is Washington, D.C.'s Black Lives Matter Plaza, commissioned by Mayor Muriel Bowser along two blocks of 16th Street NW. This new pedestrian promenade has quickly become a landmark that embodies a convergence of protest and pride.
New York City undertook an expansive "open streets" initiative, temporarily closing more than 100 miles of roadway to cars to provide more space for outdoor recreation in all five boroughs. Like most cities we surveyed, New York did not have a plan or process for retaining these changes after the pandemic. But the city's Department of Transportation, responding to public pressure, has signaled its commitment to making some changes permanent.
Typical setup for temporary limited local access under New York City's Open Streets initiative. NYC DOT
The most popular new use of public space, and the one most likely to endure after the pandemic, was outdoor dining. Among the mayors we surveyed, 92% created new space for outdoor dining, with 34% noting they planned to make these changes permanent. Locations varied across cities and neighborhoods: Some communities claimed sidewalk space, while others reallocated on-street parking or repurposed empty parking lots. Other cities closed entire streets for dining.
Other new uses of public space included widening sidewalks and creating new bike lanes. About 40% of the mayors in our survey pursued each of these changes. In Boston, permitting for new outdoor dining was part of a multifaceted "Healthy Streets" initiative that also accelerated creation of dedicated bus lanes and new bike lanes – including expansive new protected lanes around the city's historic central green space, Boston Common.
Ambitious projects require resources, and financial pressures still loom. Almost 40% of mayors we surveyed anticipated "dramatic" financial cuts to their parks and recreation budgets. That threat could be offset by the recently enacted American Rescue Plan, which provides direct funds for cities of all sizes.
People-Centered Public Spaces
Our survey indicates that Americans' newfound enthusiasm for public spaces isn't likely to fade. Among the mayors we surveyed, 76% believe their residents will visit parks and green space more frequently in the future than they did before the pandemic, 70% anticipate that residents will be walking more, and 62% believe they will be cycling more frequently.
Speaking recently about the future of cities, renowned Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye asserted that high-quality public space "has now become the treasure that people are completely addicted to. If you took for granted a park, now you realize that it's a very important part of the quality of life [in] cities."
As the U.S. emerges from a long and challenging year, perhaps more American mayors – spurred on by residents – will find the will to forever transform urban spaces into the treasures they can be.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- COVID-19 Reveals a Crisis of Public Spaces - EcoWatch ›
- Public Parks Matter More Than Ever During a Pandemic - EcoWatch ›
By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
For many species, these journeys take place at night, when skies typically are calmer and predators are less active. Scientists do not have a good understanding yet of how birds navigate effectively at night over long distances.
We study bird migration and how it is being affected by factors ranging from climate change to artificial light at night. In a recent study, we used millions of bird observations by citizen scientists to document the occurrence of migratory bird species in 333 U.S. cities during the winter, spring, summer and autumn.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia
We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of light pollution – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.
Declining Bird Populations
Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of colliding with buildings or communication towers. Many migratory bird populations have declined over the past 50 years, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.
Scientists widely agree that light pollution can severely disorient migratory birds and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the primary source of light pollution for migratory birds, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities during migration, especially in city parks.
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The Power of Citizen Science
It's not easy to observe and document bird migration, especially for species that migrate at night. The main challenge is that many of these species are very small, which limits scientists' ability to use electronic tracking devices.
With the growth of the internet and other information technologies, new data resources are becoming available that are making it possible to overcome some of these challenges. Citizen science initiatives in which volunteers use online portals to enter their observations of the natural world have become an important resource for researchers.
One such initiative, eBird, allows bird-watchers around the globe to share their observations from any location and time. This has produced one of the largest ecological citizen-science databases in the world. To date, eBird contains over 922 million bird observations compiled by over 617,000 participants.
Large clusters of birds (blue and green splotches) captured by weather radar during spring migration, April-May 2019.
Light Pollution Both Attracts and Repels Migratory Birds
Migratory bird species have evolved to use certain migration routes and types of habitat, such as forests, grasslands or marshes. While humans may enjoy seeing migratory birds appear in urban areas, it's generally not good for bird populations. In addition to the many hazards that exist in urban areas, cities typically lack the food resources and cover that birds need during migration or when raising their young. As scientists, we're concerned when we see evidence that migratory birds are being drawn away from their traditional migration routes and natural habitats.
Through our analysis of eBird data, we found that cities contained the greatest numbers of migratory bird species during spring and autumn migration. Higher levels of light pollution were associated with more species during migration – evidence that light pollution attracts migratory birds to cities across the U.S. This is cause for concern, as it shows that the influence of light pollution on migratory behavior is strong enough to increase the number of species that would normally be found in urban areas.
In contrast, we found that higher levels of light pollution were associated with fewer migratory bird species during the summer and winter. This is likely due to the scarcity of suitable habitat in cities, such as large forest patches, in combination with the adverse affects of light pollution on bird behavior and health. In addition, during these seasons, migratory birds are active only during the day and their populations are largely stationary, creating few opportunities for light pollution to attract them to urban areas.
Darkening skies at night during migration season makes it easier for birds to navigate.
Trees and Pavement
We found that tree canopy cover was associated with more migratory bird species during spring migration and the summer. Trees provide important habitat for migratory birds during migration and the breeding season, so the presence of trees can have a strong effect on the number of migratory bird species that occur in cities.
Finally, we found that higher levels of impervious surface were associated with more migratory bird species during the winter. This result is somewhat surprising. It could be a product of the urban heat island effect – the fact that structures and paved surfaces in cities absorb and reemit more of the sun's heat than natural surfaces. Replacing vegetation with buildings, roads and parking lots can therefore make cities significantly warmer than surrounding lands. This effect could reduce cold stress on birds and increase food resources, such as insect populations, during the winter.
Our research adds to our understanding of how conditions in cities can both help and hurt migratory bird populations. We hope that our findings will inform urban planning initiatives and strategies to reduce the harmful effects of cities on migratory birds through such measures as planting more trees and initiating lights-out programs. Efforts to make it easier for migratory birds to complete their incredible journeys will help maintain their populations into the future.
Frank La Sorte is a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University. Kyle Horton is an assistant professor of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the Colorado State University.
Disclosure statement: Frank La Sorte receives funding from The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DBI-1939187). Kyle Horton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Richard leBrasseur
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered humans' relationship with natural landscapes in ways that may be long-lasting. One of its most direct effects on people's daily lives is reduced access to public parks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines urging Americans to stay at home whenever feasible, and to avoid discretionary travel and gatherings of more than 10 people. Emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders vary from state to state, but many jurisdictions have closed state and county parks, as well as smaller parks, playgrounds, beaches and other outdoor destinations.
There's good reason for these actions, especially in places where people have spurned social distancing rules. But particularly in urban environments, parks are important to human health and well-being.
As a landscape architect, I believe that Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of our field, took the right approach. Olmsted served as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, and his knowledge of contagious diseases informed his visions for his great North American urban parks, including Central Park in New York, Mount Royal Park in Montreal and Boston's Emerald Necklace park system. In my view, closing parks and public green spaces should be a temporary, last-resort measure for disease control, and reopening closed parks should be a priority as cities emerge from shutdowns.
Making Healthy Places
Olmsted was born in 1822 but became a landscape architect rather late in his career, at age 43. His ideas evolved from a diverse and unique set of experiences.
From the start, Olmsted recognized the positive effect of nature, noting how urban trees provided a "soothing and refreshing sanitary influence." His "sanitary style" of design offered more than mere decoration and ornamentation. "Service must precede art" was his cry.
Olmsted's 1874 plan for the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, DC. Architect of the Capitol
Olmsted came of age in the mid-19th century, as the public health movement was rapidly developing in response to typhoid, cholera and typhus epidemics in European cities. As managing editor of Putnam's Monthly in New York City, he regularly walked the crowded tenement streets of Lower Manhattan.
At the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, Olmsted led efforts to improve sanitation in Union Army military camps and protect soldiers' health. He initiated policies for selecting proper camp locations, installing drainage and disposing of waste, ventilating tents and preparing food, all designed to reduce disease. And in 1866 he witnessed adoption of New York's Metropolitan Health Bill, the first city law to control unhealthy housing conditions.
Antidotes to Urban Stress
The insights Olmsted gained into connections between space, disease control and public health clearly influenced his landscape architectural career and the design of many urban park systems. For example, his design for the interlinked parks that forms Boston's Emerald Necklace foreshadowed the concept of green infrastructure.
This system centered on stagnant and deteriorated marshes that had became disconnected from the tidal flow of the Charles River as Boston grew. City residents were dumping trash and sewage in the marshes, creating fetid dumps that spread waterborne diseases. Olmsted's design reconnected these water systems to improve flow and flush out stagnant zones, while integrating a series of smaller parks along its trailways.
Olmsted also designed America's first bike lane, which originated in Brooklyn, New York's Prospect Park. Of the tree-lined boulevards in his design for Central Park, Olmsted said, "Air is disinfected by sunlight and foliage. Foliage also acts mechanically to purify the air by screening it."
In all of his urban parks, Olmsted sought to immerse visitors in restorative and therapeutic natural landscapes — an experience he viewed as the most profound and effective antidote to the stress and ailments of urban life.
Parks in the Time of COVID-19
Today researchers are documenting many health benefits associated with being outside. Spending time in parks and green spaces clearly benefits urban dwellers' psychological, emotional and overall well-being. It reduces stress, improves cognitive functioning and is associated with improved overall health.
In my view, government agencies should work to make these vital services as widely available as possible, especially during stressful periods like pandemic shutdowns. Certain types of public green spaces, such as botanical gardens, arboretums and wide trails, are well suited to maintaining social distancing rules. Other types where visitors may be likely to cluster, such as beaches and playgrounds, require stricter regulation.
There are many ways to make parks accessible with appropriate levels of control. One option is stationing agents at entry points to monitor and enforce capacity controls. Park managers can use timed entries and parking area restrictions to limit social crowding, as well as temperature screening and face mask provisions.
The weather's going to be awesome this weekend. Heading to your local #WaStatePark? Be like mascots Bagley and Ruth… https://t.co/BwCzquGx75— WaStatePks (@WaStatePks)1588895742.0
For example, in New Jersey, many public parks have reopened for walking, hiking, bicycling and fishing while keeping playgrounds, picnic and camping areas and restrooms closed. They also have limited parking capacity to 50 percent of capacity.
In Shanghai, China, the government recently reopened most parks and several major attractions, including the Chenshan Botanical Garden and the city zoo. Entry requires successful screening and online reservations, and visits are limited to a maximum of two hours.
Technologies such as GPS tracking and biometrics can set a precedent for future green space interaction. Residents could sign up for reserved time slots and log into apps that monitor their entry and distancing behavior. Some Americans might be put off by such technocentric means, but officials should be clear that making visitation easy and safe for all is the priority.
There will be challenges, especially when people flout social distancing rules. But urban parks and nature offer plenty of benefits that are especially important during a pandemic. I believe that finding ways to enjoy them now in a manner safe for all will be well worth the effort.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- National Parks to Start Partial Reopening - EcoWatch ›
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- COVID-19 Reveals a Crisis of Public Spaces - EcoWatch ›
- City Dwellers Gained More Access to Public Spaces During the Pandemic – Can They Keep It? ›
By Jeff Turrentine
Years ago, my wife and I decided to while away an idle summer afternoon in her Texas hometown by driving our infant daughter to a neighborhood park. We pulled into the empty lot, liberated the baby from her car seat, and made our way somewhat warily through this public yet noticeably deserted space toward its small, forlorn playground. If the grass had ever been green there, it wasn't any longer; the punishing South Texas sun had dried it into a brittle yellow hay. There were few trees next to the playground equipment, and no shade of any kind to be found, so any metal or even plastic surface was searingly hot to the touch. The slide was a nonstarter. I flinched and had to let go immediately when I grasped the chains of the baby swing. The water fountain didn't work. We lasted all of five minutes before returning to the car.
As much as I'd like to forget it, this experience came rushing back to me when I read an article this week in The Conversation. In it, coauthors Julian Bolleter and Cristina E. Ramalho, an assistant professor and a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, respectively, make the case for something they call "greenspace-oriented development." The concept is similar to the much more well-known urban planning concept of transit-oriented development, which holds that communities reap substantial social, economic, and environmental benefits when they place commercial and residential development within walking distance of transportation hubs such as train stations, bus stops, or light rail stations. Bolleter and Ramalho believe that adding green space to this equation can boost these benefits significantly. They also think it has the potential to do more. By creating better urban parks, they say, cities can curb urban sprawl by giving residents what they often claim to be seeking when they flee cities for the low-density suburbs and exurbs: a connection with nature.
"Over the last century, in all regions of the world, the expansion of urbanized land has outpaced the growth of urban populations, resulting in unprecedented urban sprawl," Bolleter told me when I asked him to elaborate on his theory. "We need to work with the underlying desire for suburban living, around the world, in attempting to deliver density in these cities; otherwise our efforts will just waste a lot of time and money."
Encouraging more transit-oriented development is important, Bolleter believes. (The optimal urban green space, in his view, should be no more than a 5-minute bike ride or 15- to 20-minute walk from public transit.) But if cities want to maintain or increase density and stimulate urban infill, they have another powerful tool at their disposal to make density more attractive to people living in city centers and inner-ring suburbs. In the article, the authors suggest "redesigning parks to increase the naturalness, ecological function and diversity of active and passive recreational uses, which in turn can support higher-density urban areas."
That means thinking of urban and suburban parks as much more than big public lawns with a playground, a few picnic tables, and maybe a soccer field (if you're lucky). It means thinking of them as "multifunctional, mutable, and messy," in Bolleter's memorable phrasing — authentic oases from city life, where winding paths through forested landscapes lead to burbling creeks or meadows filled with native wildflowers; where you might stand a real chance of spotting a beaver or a fox; or where you might happen upon a group of neighbors tending a bounteous community garden. It means creating actual opportunities for escape into nature — for the kind of spirit-restoring connection with trees, water, and wildlife that all humans need.
Bolleter, who's a licensed landscape architect in addition to being the codirector of the University's Australian Urban Design Research Centre, is quick to list the many benefits that come with such connection. Regular immersion in the sort of green settings that he champions can vastly improve people's quality of life, he says, "first, by promoting physical activity; second, by reducing exposure to stress factors and providing an environment for physiological and mental recovery that delivers coping resources to deal with life; third, by promoting social interaction and a sense of community; and fourth, by providing a healthy, comfortable urban environment. Overall, these pathways lead to multiple health and well-being benefits that play out across an individual's life span."
Additionally, if people living in city centers and dense suburbs had greater access to nature, so the theory goes, they might be less inclined to drift farther and farther away in search of their own slice of manicured, green lawn. Winners in this scenario include not only the residents who are healthily and happily communing with nature, but also municipalities that are able to more efficiently distribute their services and resources. Another winner, of course, is the environment: Limiting sprawl means reducing car dependence (and the tailpipe emissions and traffic jams that come with it), preserving habitat and biodiversity, and even decreasing risks for flooding and runoff-related water pollution.
People's preferences for the suburbs and exurbs don't automatically denote a rejection of what more densely populated urban areas have to offer. "The problem has been that we generally haven't delivered density in a form that resonates with suburbanites," Bolleter says. Green space–oriented development can help correct that problem by providing people already living in dense communities, or cities and suburbs that want to increase their density, with "a multifunctional, communal backyard" capable of "replacing many of the functions typically found in suburban gardens, such as the ability to grow food, have pets, and entertain and relax in private—and in nature."
Just don't forget the shade trees, please. And the working water fountains. Especially in Texas.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
If you're stuck for plans this weekend, we suggest escaping your city or town for the great outdoors.
The annual event is known to be the nation's largest single-day volunteer effort and is one of the four days in 2018 where you can visit any national park for free—even at parks that normally charge an entrance fee.
Visit national parks, forests, and monuments for free tomorrow-Saturday, Sept. 22-in honor of the 25th National Pub… https://t.co/SwI2voKbsG— LandSearch (@LandSearch)1537542840.0
At last year occasion, roughly 169,000 people rolled up their sleeves at more than 21,000 sites, generating $16.7 million in volunteer hours.
The volunteers planted trees, removed trash, repaired structures and habitats and more, providing much-needed help in chipping away at the national park system's $11 billion backlog of repairs.
Last year, the Interior Department moved to more than double the entrance fees at the busiest parks to address maintenance and other costs, but backed away after widespread public backlash. Ultimately, NPS decided to increase entrance fees for the 117 parks that charge admission between $5 to $10 for annual passes.
Fittingly, the theme of this year's National Public Lands Day will focus on the "resilience and restoration" of our public lands.
"Every day, natural disasters and extreme weather, human activities, and a host of other factors take their toll on our public lands, threatening the health and wellbeing of the people and wildlife who depend on them," NEEF said on its website. "Public land managers, volunteers, and others who steward these special places work tirelessly to restore these areas, make them more resilient to future threats, and ensure that people and wildlife continue to enjoy them for years to come."
The annual event, which always falls on the fourth Saturday of September, is held in cooperation with seven federal agencies and more than 250 state, county, city, university and school partners.
National Parks Service
By Jason Mark
Normally, a writer writes to reach an audience. But what I'm about to tell you, I want you to keep just between us, OK? Whatever you do, don't email this article to your friends, don't share it on Facebook, and please don't post it on Twitter. Because I'm going to let you in on one of the San Francisco Bay Area's best-kept backpacking secrets, and I want to keep it that way.
The place I'm going to tell you about is big enough, and still wild enough, to accommodate a week-long backpacking trip. It's a landscape that's textbook California savanna—a terrain of mammoth black oak and valley oak that, in the springtime, explodes into wildflower fireworks. And—best of all—it's a place that you can get to in a relatively painless two-hour drive from San Francisco or Oakland.
I'm talking about Henry Coe State Park, the largest state park in Northern California. At 88,000 acres, it's about 25 percent larger than Point Reyes National Seashore, but it hosts a tiny fraction of the estimated 2.5 million visitors who travel to the national seashore every year. It's also stupid-close to the mish-mash of freeway mazes and sprawl that make up most of the Bay Area. As the crow flies, the park is a scant 35 miles from the Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
All of which makes Henry Coe the perfect escape. Once you get there, you'll feel far away—even if you're still close to home.
I should say that if you're the kind of backpacker who hungers for epic alpine vistas or the sharp beauty of the desert, you may at first be disappointed by Henry Coe. There's little grandeur there. No big peaks or stunning buttes, no rough rivers or knock-you-on-your-ass tall trees. It's a place of subtle charms. With its broad sweeps of tall grass and swooning oak trees, Henry Coe feels like it's ripped from a John Steinbeck novel, the epitome of Old California. The place is merely pretty—but after weeks stuck in the city or the 'burbs, pretty is more than enough.
At a good half mile above sea level, this northernmost outpost of the Diablo Range has a lushness unusual for Californian savanna. Gray pines are scattered among all of the oak trees. There are ponderosa, including a few giants that seem like they've been transplanted from the kneecaps of the Sierra Nevada. Coyote Creek, one of the park's main arteries, manages to flow even through the dusty days of August and September.
Then there are the flowers—my God, the flowers. My field guide, Wildflowers of Henry Coe State Park, features 67 species. If you time your visit for late winter or spring, you'll be gobsmacked by the chaos of colors: blue lupine, pink and red paintbursh, football field lengths of orange poppy, crimson columbine, yellow fiddlenecks arching their heads above the grasses like herds of giraffe. There's purple everywhere: purple owl's clover, purple shooting stars (two different types), purple clarkia.
You've got a good chance of seeing some wildlife. Henry Coe's usual critters are common: deer and coyotes, flocks of turkeys zigzagging through the understory. If you behave yourself (that is, if you're practiced at being still) you might catch something more elusive. Once, I spotted a red fox, jumping through the beam of my head lamp. On another trip, I came across a bobcat, right in the middle of the trail. During a New Year's solo trip, I saw a feral hog above Coit Lake. It was the size and color of a wine barrel, tearing up a hillside with the speed of an NFL linebacker.
If you really want to play with solitude, Henry Coe will demand some work. Anything within a day's hike of the visitor center at Coe Ranch is reliably busy with day-trippers, crews of college backpackers, and mountain bikers a'shredding. (Many of the park's trails are old ranch roads, broad and with a brutal grade, which makes them popular with the two-wheelers.) But if you go farther afield, it gets lonely quick enough. Few folks make it out to the Orestimba Wilderness, a 22,000-acre state wilderness punctuated by the impressive chert outcropping of the "Rooster Comb," where miles-long groves of blue oak cast their candelabra arms skyward. I doubt more than a dozen people a year make it to the old corral below Bear Spring.
Did I mention that if you live in the Bay Area, Henry Coe is ridiculously easy to get to? The proximity is the point. Often as not, the backyard beats the bucket list destination. I've backpacked through Henry Coe nearly 10 times, and its lack of pretension has grown on me. At this point, it seems like an old friend.
I'd encourage you to start planning your route. Just remember: You didn't hear this from me.
Follow in the Writer's Footsteps
Where: Henry Coe State Park. Take California Highway 101 to the city of Morgan Hill and exit at East Dunne Avenue. Follow Dunne Avenue eastward, and follow the park signs up into the hills.
Best Time to Visit: Spring is the most popular season for visiting Henry Coe, on account of the explosions of wildflowers. If you want to beat the crowds, consider visiting in winter, when the grasses are typically green and lush and the temperatures still relatively mild. The park can be punishingly hot and dry in the summer, and water difficult to come by.
Backcountry Hack: Each spring, the park hosts what it calls "Backcountry Wilderness Weekend," when park staff and volunteers from the Pine Ridge Association organize a shuttle system along the old ranching roads to establish a temporary trailhead on the east side of the park, affording hikers and equestrians easy access to the Orestimba Wilderness. Downside: The typically quite-far reaches of the park become packed with people. Upside: It's a good way for families to get to places like the Rooster Comb, which requires at least two days of hard trekking to reach.
Bring Your Fishing Pole: If you're an angler, consider bringing your pole. There's good fishing—bass, crappie and sunfish—at Coit Lake and Mississippi Lake. But both lakes are fringed with thick stands of tule reeds, so getting to a good place to cast requires some bushwhacking.
Pro-tip—Brave the Narrows: Many backpackers or hikers seeking to get from the park headquarters to the eastern side of the park will avoid the narrow gulch of Coyote Creek marked on the map as "The Narrows" and will instead take the punishing ranching roads up and over the ridges. But if you're a half-experienced trekker, you should brave the Narrows (unless it's after a big rain). Between Poverty Flat Campground and China Hole you'll be rewarded with a sycamore-strung single-track free of mountain bikers. In the spring, the pools between China Hole and Los Cruceros are often filled with various species of duck.
More Information: The Pine Ridge Association website offers more detailed visitor information than the official park site.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
The Trust for Public Land has released the third annual ParkScore® index, which analyzes the 60 largest U.S. cities and assigns scores based on three things: acreage; services and investments, based equally on playgrounds per resident and total spending per resident; and access, or the percentage of the population living with a 10-minute walk of a public park.
Minneapolis won top honors as the only city park system receiving a perfect “5 park bench” rating. See the highest-ranking city park systems in the U.S. below.
“You can't have a great city without great parks,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for the Trust for Public Land. “Parks provide places for children and adults to be physically active, and they serve as community meeting places where friendships are built and a sense of community is strengthened.”
ParkScore utilizes GIS mapping technology and demographic data to calculate how successfully each city meets the need for parks. Also taken into account are physical obstacles and locations of entrances to parks. ParkScore offers free, interactive maps and tools for local leaders such as a park evaluator to site the best location for new parks.
“This year’s ParkScore results show that even outstanding park systems must improve to stay on top. When population grows, more parks and playgrounds are needed, but when city leaders get creative, they can meet the increased demand,” said Peter Harnik, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence.
Fresno again took last place in the 60 ranked cities, earning a “1 park bench” score. Find out your city’s ParkScore.
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