Looking across the pond at fun in parks

50 Things to do before you are 11 3/4
50 Things to do before you are 11 3/4

Recent news coverage of The National Trust’s “50 Things to do before you’re 11 3/4” campaign had me reaching for my bookshelves. I had picked up a copy of this fun book and list when I was last in England.

The Great Outdoors holds boundless opportunities: to create, to learn, to walk and run, and to spend precious time with family and friends. Memories that last a lifetime are made through these experiences. And that’s what 50 Things to do Before You’re 11 3/4 is all about.”

It’s a nationwide campaign in the UK to encourage children to get outdoors and enjoy classic activities from stone skimming to building tree forts. It’s also a campaign that the National Trust, one of the largest landowners in Britain, is taking to heart at its properties and historic homes. Go to a trust property these days and you’re likely to find places that kids can pond dip, build tree forts, or simply mess around getting wet and muddy.  It’s part of a broader initiative the Trust launched a number of years ago called, “going local.” The idea was simple, the goal was to have local managers make decisions on how best to let the public interact with the Trusts properties.  The velvet ropes that traditionally guarded quiet dusty rooms came down and people were let in to interact with history.  They are now doing the same for their wild places. Letting people in to play and roam.  It’s part of the broader “children in nature” movement that is gaining momentum also here in the states, spurred in part by Richard Louvre’s best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods.”

I can’t help but contrast this to many parks here in California. How many times have you been to a park only to be greeted by a long list of what you cannot do? Don’t ride your bike, picnic, walk off trail, dive in the river, walk your dog, pick any flower or stick or cone, and do watch out for mountain lions, poison oak, snakes, and perhaps stinging bees. Makes our parks sound pretty dull, if not outright dangerous places to be.   Is it any wonder that for many people parks are not a place they really think of going?

Take the recent Yosemite plan that I wrote about recently. It proposes to remove bike rentals and an artists studio that sells paints and gives classes in the valley. How does either benefit the visitor or the park? Or look at our state park system in California that is on the verge of collapse after deep cuts and financial scandal. The legislature ordered a two year pause in park closures after the administration had announced the closure of one quarter of the system for budgetary purposes. The administration has a small window to remake California’s park system. I urge them to take a close look at what is happening in the United Kingdom at the National Trust. They have found a way to both protect precious resources, become financially self sustaining, and invite the public in to enjoy themselves. To me it all starts with welcoming people in, and that means having the courage to allow people in to find ways to make our parks fun once more.  It’s good for the visitors, it’s also good for the parks who need a new cadre of strong supporters.

Oh, and in case you are wondering. I am at 45 and counting….

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