Seeing parks from behind the barricades
by Jean Godden
After many days spent in shelter-at-home conditions, it is important to venture -- cautiously of course -- into the outside world. For we city dwellers, there becomes an overwhelming need to leave home on occasion and get outside for mental and physical health.
Luckily, this city is well equipped. Seattle has 485 parks, large and small, a vast well-designed expanse of acreage. Our parks offer wooded green spaces, trails, beaches, dog parks, playgrounds, golf courses, ball fields, tennis courts and more.
That is the good news. The bad news is that many of those wonderful spaces are now locked away, suddenly unavailable to only fortunate few -- people maybe rich enough to live nearby -- those able to hike a short distance. Parking lots at many large parks: Lincoln, Magnuson, Green Lake, Golden Gardens and Discovery are barricaded, roads to walking trails are blocked. At dog parks, dog owners are forced to search out distant parking spaces, competing for a sudden vacancy.
If you're a little infirm or perhaps a bit older, you're going to find unsurmountable barriers. There are barricades -- doubly reinforced cordons -- at some of our parks. There are forbidding signs that warn "Crowded Parks Will Lead to Closed Parks." There are other signs with strict orders: "Keep Moving." And recently signs that read "This Park Temporarily closed after 8 p.m. daily." Never mind that sunset now is closer to 9 p.m.
There is a vengeful nastiness about those hectoring signs. If someone -- not you -- misbehaves, then we all will be penalized. The ubiquitous "keep moving" signs apparently mean just that, if you stop to admire a flowering bush, pause to look at a brightly-colored bird, linger to see a pair of new ducklings, you're in trouble. March, stride, move, vamoose.
Along with the expansive warnings, there are local news stories with quotes from Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesus Aguirre saying, "We encourage people to stay home, to stay local." We are told that we must not congregate -- that's a given, of course. No barbecues; no picnics. We're commanded to "enjoy the park alone or with your family."
The parks are still there. Parks Department employees are still on staff. Woodland trails and wildlife remain. But many of us who prized them will not be able to appreciate them. Not with the present barriers.
Darn it, why aren't we able to enjoy parks more fully? I hear those concerns echoed by usually compliant Seattleites. Most of us are law-abiding folks. We're not likely to bunch up and violate the rules. Few will sneak into a park to launch a boat, fly a kite, hold a barbecue or pause extra long on a trail. And, when it comes to contagion, most scientific experts agree that danger comes when we are in close, enclosed spaces, not in outdoor air.
We can't help but feel put upon. Why did we vote "yes" for a well-funded Metropolitan Parks District? Why did we vote generously to preserve and maintain Seattle's fabled park system? Was it so we could view those acres from behind barricades? (Full disclosure: during my years on the Seattle City Council, I served as the first Metropolitan Parks chair.)
It is understandable why childrens' playgrounds are circled in yellow tape, off limits to youngsters because of the difficulty of keeping them disinfected. It's understandable that we don't want people in close proximity watching soccer matches or baseball contests.
And, yes, we understand that the deadly coronavirus has killed many of our countryfolk, and to date the only real defense has been to stay at home. We know that, when we make an essential trip, we must wear a mask, wash our hands and stay six feet apart.
But, after endless weeks of isolation, we need to surface long enough to walk along a park trail and connect to the city's amazing environment. The Parks Department ought to have some provision for those of us who those who need to park in order to enjoy a park.