Letter 31 - It's "Just" a Park - Lake Sacajawea

Letter from the Director....

The Difference a Park Can Make

I want to start with a short personal story about Lake Sacajawea.  We all “use” the park for different reasons and I want to tell you about one of mine.  Over the last five years I have had two family members require extended medical stays at the hospital. For me, between the stress and the grief and the time spent day after day waiting, fearing, and hoping, I’ve never been so thankful for the lake.  Stepping out to take a moment to myself, to just breathe, to let emotions flow, to escape, and then to gather the strength needed to go back in and be there for my family.  The lake became my waiting room, but offered so much more than a tv and a cup of coffee.
I now realize that every hospital deserves a Lake Sacajawea next to it.
As I reflect on my need for the lake during this critical time, I think about the countless amount of people Lake Sacajawea has hosted that have used its landscape to find solace, to alleviate stress and anticipation, to await a new born life, a surgery, a treatment, or the passing of another, to cry, to scream, to rest, to rejuvenate, to smile, to find joy. The cathartic nature of its paths and shores can sooth and ease even the most weary of souls. Even if it's only a temporary respite, the lake welcomes everyone with open arms for whatever we need, as often as we want, and for as long as we require.
The lake is a special place for so many reasons and it’s hard to think about what our city would look like without it.  I can’t imagine the center of our town devoid of the open green space, laughter filled playgrounds, and tranquil walking trail.  Not having a place for families to gather, a place where community is built, or a natural landscape to enjoy would change our identity and the very essence of what makes our town a beautiful place to live, work, and play. 
Parks connect us and help build a strong city that cares for one another.  I have had the privilege firsthand to experience and witness the transformative power of parks.  I have seen the joy on children’s faces when they conquer a playground challenge, felt the camaraderie among neighbors at one of our events, and watched families bond as they picnic and play together.  
Parks are not just “nice to have”…
Parks are a city’s curb appeal for future and economic development….
Whether we are trying to attract new talent, industry, homebuyers, or builders, our parks are some of the first impressions to our City. The aesthetic look of our landscapes can be very telling as to what else potential investors may find within our City limits when they visit. Our parks are regularly used in marketing our city, as our way to promote the city from the outside in. First impressions make a huge difference; parks provide that initial “wow” factor to entice people to want to know more.
Parks are love letters sent to our citizens….
The City takes great effort and care to provide safe well-maintained parks and open space for all to enjoy.  Parks are one of the few places that are available to everyone regardless of age, ability, or social or economic status. Parks provide community wide benefit that is vitally important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life for our city, providing public gathering places, and increasing private property values. Parks have proven to be strongly linked to reduction in crime and reduced juvenile delinquency. Parks provide a sense of public pride, cohesion, and connection.
Parks are not just perks or an after thought…
Now more than ever, citizens find that visiting parks and open spaces are vital to maintaining their mental and physical health. The role parks play as critical infrastructure is immeasurable; citizens lean in heavily during time of crisis and find fresh air, exercise, solace, and a much needed break from stress, anxiety, and depression within our park system.  Parks provide the opportunity to stay connected and grounded to our community. Parks are proving to be a crucial part of how we cope, manage, maintain, and recover during difficult times.
Parks are not just “nice to have”…. they are essential.
~ Director Jen Wills