As we experience the heat of the summer, I can’t help but think back to my childhood in Wheaton, Illinois, and all the days my friends and I spent at the local pool and area parks. Sometimes, I’d get dropped off at the pool with a bunch of friends, and sometimes, I’d ride my bike the 2 miles across town. I remember playing on the old, rundown playground at Triangle Park just a few blocks from the house, and days spent exploring through the woods. From sunup to sundown, we were outdoors and often enjoying whatever programs and activities our local park and recreation agency had to offer.
Now, I’m watching as my youngest is getting old enough to do some of this on his own. Of course, the pool of my childhood pales in comparison to the aquatic centers our agencies have today. The bright, colorful playgrounds are completely different, and now, there are marked paths through most of the woods I used to explore.
As we celebrate Park and Recreation Month in July, I think back to what a great impact parks and recreation truly has had on my life. My imagination ran wild as my friends and I made up games at the playground. Through swim lessons at the rec center, I learned to swim, and, at a very young age, I had the opportunity to try any sport I wanted, which taught me the value of team sports. Parks and rec even provided me with my first job as a baseball umpire at the age of 14.
My mom taught me how to fish, and it’s something I still love to this day. We would fish at any of the local ponds in town. Some days, we would drive further out to find a better “fishing hole.” But, it connected me with nature, and I learned about more than just fishing.
Life seems to have come full circle, as I’ve watched my three boys grow up the same way. Among the three of them, they have tried just about every sport our local agency offers, they all learned to swim there, and each has spent a lot of time at the two playgrounds in our neighborhood — I’m sure making up their own games. The older two had their first job at our local agency.
I taught them to fish, of course, and, occasionally during the summer, I’ll get a phone call from one or more of them telling me they’re going down to the park with the pond to go fishing. It takes me back and makes me smile to know that they are connected.
So, as we celebrate Park and Recreation Month, take a moment to reflect on all the ways parks and recreation truly touches our lives.
Stephen Eckelberry is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.