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Using Smaller, Local Parcels for Active Recreation Can Keep Open Space Natural

Grasslands, Brookfield Park, c. Anton Troio/Protectors of Pine Oak Woods

The mission of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods is steeped in a belief that the preservation of open space brings added value to our community. The intrinsic value of open space, most obvious throughout COVID, is rooted in our need to connect with each other, with the natural world, with a higher power. The value of open space is a financial benefit realized in the increase in the value of our homes and properties. The value of open space is recognized when eagles fledge young in our woodlands, when critically imperiled sparrows colonize our grasslands, when pileated woodpeckers, blue grosbeaks, ravens and hummingbirds return to nest in parks across the Island.

The value of preserving open space is relative to the human impact upon such open space. When woodlands and grasslands are set aside, they flourish. Within a short period of time birds and butterflies return and the natural succession of plants and trees allows for the perpetuation of a healthy ecosystem. When woodlands and grasslands are developed, when ball fields and courts replace oak trees, grasses and shrubs the intrinsic value of that open space is diminished.

Nevertheless, children need to play ball. Of course, children need swings and slides and teeter-totters. Of course, children need to be outdoors with other children. Parks are a vital component of a vibrant community.

A ball field holds little or no environmental value. Tennis courts and basketball courts, soccer fields and football fields are not environmentally friendly. Actually, the chemical dependent lawns and pavements cause harm to the surrounding wildlife, while the runoff further exacerbates the damage. Yet, those same ball fields and courts allow for active recreation, exercise and experiences that help shape our children and our community.

So, how does a community decide when and where to raze trees, fill marshland or bulldoze grasslands to develop park space? Who decides when and where our community needs a new ball field, basketball courts, a pool or track? Dog runs and tot lots pepper our parks, but who determined if and where they belong? What is the procedure for design, development and deployment of our park assets and how can the general public participate in the process?

When the sale of Pouch Camp was a consideration, folks were galvanized and a deal to have government purchase a conservation easement was struck. When the sale of the Goodhue Woods was a consideration, folks were galvanized and a deal to have government purchase the property was struck.

It is time for a focused discussion about the active and passive recreational needs of our community. We need to discuss the possibility of preserving open space across the Island for the eventual design and construction of playgrounds and community space. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods has developed a long list of small properties, some available for immediate purchase, which would make great locations for neighborhood parks.

Let’s call upon our elected officials, our representatives in government to purchase available properties across the Island for our children and their children to run and play. Let’s galvanize our community to see purchased and preserved the vacant lots and abandoned parcels throughout our neighborhoods for the playgrounds and ball fields our community will surely need in the years to come.

—Cliff Hagen, Summer 2021

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