Moment of the Month: In Praise of Our Parks

Members of the Healthy Community Partnership celebrate spring with a new parks action plan and community challenge that promotes the power of parks and public spaces to improve physical and mental health

Map of Park Locations in Mahoning and Trumbull Counties

The May Moment of the Month celebrates collaborative efforts that encourage residents to get out and show their love for parks and green spaces. Through several strategies, partners have elevated the importance of parks as essential public places that promote health, wellbeing, and connection—to each other and our communities—during a time when we have to remain physically apart.

The Mahoning Valley is most well known for our long, proud history as a manufacturing community. A region that values building and making things. But, what about our lesser-known long, proud history as a parks community? A region that values protecting and promoting green oases?

Shortly after the ink dried when the cities of Youngstown and Warren and Mahoning and Trumbull counties were established in the early-to-middle 1800s, the region led the state to establish the state of Ohio’s first park district with the creation of our much-beloved Mill Creek Park. Over 120 years later, Mill Creek Metroparks remains one of the largest metropolitan-owned park systems in the United States with over 4500 acres and over 10 facilities included in its inventory.

Around a century later, in the early 1960s, Trumbull County founded the Trumbull County Metroparks system that now has over 1600 acres included in itsinventory, which includes 7 parks and 9 properties throughout Trumbull County.

In addition to the region’s two large Metroparks systems, many cities, townships, and villages have also recognized the many benefits of park access. Below is a list of some of those communities that highlight their community parks:

When you add it up, a significant percentage of Mahoning and Trumbull Counties’ physical presence has been dedicated to parks, recreation, and/or preservation. This suggests that like communities all across the United States, the Mahoning Valley understands the connection between vibrant parks and vibrant, healthy communities—physically and mentally; environmentally, economically.

Unfortunately, as the regional economy has had to weather many storms over the years, so, too have our parks. Though many communities value and celebrate them, our parks do not always see this love where it counts—in budget and policy priorities.

However, there are some bright spots breaking through the clouds as members of the Healthy Community Partnership have been hard at work to shine a light on the importance of parks, especially now during COVID-19. A few of their recent efforts launched in May are highlighted below.

Warren Parks Study and the Nature Conservancy

Late April-Early May saw the completion of the long awaited Warren Parks Action Plan, which engaged over 3000 Warren residents for feedback on 9 publicly owned/maintained city parks: AmVets, Burbank, Circle, Deemer, North End, Packard, Perkins, Quinby, and Southwest. This is the most recent study examining the usage, condition, and safety of parks in the city of Warren since a study was conducted between 2003-2004. 

Warren Parks Actin Plan Open House informational materials explaining Safe Routes to Parks

Needless to say, much has changed over nearly 20 years in between these studies. A thoughtful examination, adoption, and implementation of the recommendations included in the 2020 Warren Parks study is critical to the future of not only these parks but also the neighborhoods in which the parks are located and even the city of Warren. 

Denise Rising, with Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and the Co-Chair of the Healthy Community Partnership Parks and Green Spaces Action Team, spearheaded the study and was emphatic that in order for this to be a successful study, residents had to play a central role throughout the process.

While discussing what comes next, Ms. Rising shared that, “The Warren Parks Action Plan serves as a foundation for future investment in city parks.Equitable access and a safe environment for participation in active outdoor activities will benefit the health and well-being of the community.”

Next steps will be to engage Warren City leaders in conversations about the implementation of some of the study’s recommendations. Some of these recommendations include establishing a Parks Board and other strategies to ensure these potential neighborhood assets are afforded the love and support they deserve. 

The 2020 Warren Parks Study also came just in the nick of time as the Nature Conservancy based out of Cleveland, Ohio has begun working with local leaders on a complementary study examining the ecological needs of the city parks along the Mahoning River. Having conducted a thorough review of some of these parks will provide mutual benefit to the partners involved and hopefully will lead to stronger, more impactful results. 

Moreover, there’s a hope that the methodology of the Warren Parks Study can be adopted and implemented for future parks studies in other communities.

Warren Park Action Plan Press Clips:

WKBN | Tribune Chronicle

Share Your Smile, Not Your Space Community Challenge

As the COVID-19 crisis descended upon the Mahoning Valley, partners in the Healthy Community Partnership quickly diverted from their plans and developed strategies to help support each other and our community. Several discussions led by partners focused on HCP’s mission and relationships providing unique opportunities for the network to communicate messages of hope, health, and togetherness. This focus became even more important as we began to adopt practices promoting both physical distancing and the many benefits of outdoor physical activities while people stayed safer at home.

By mid-April, partners with the Parks and Green Spaces Action Team developed the Share Your Smile, Not Your Space Community Challenge.

Instructions to Participate in HCP’s Share Your Smile Community Challenge

Residents [are] encouraged to go outside to capture photos or videos of themselves enjoying their favorite outdoor activities. While outdoors, residents are strongly encouraged to practice safety measures like maintaining a minimum of six feet of distance between themselves and other park users and wearing masks while sharing public spaces. These photos and videos can be shared by posting on HCP-MV’s new Facebook Page with the hashtag #shareyoursmile.

The goal of the campaign is to encourage residents to stay active in mind and body by taking advantage of the many beautiful outdoor parks and green spaces in our communities. Members of the HCP-MV Parks and Green Spaces Action Team hope the #shareyoursmile campaign inspires residents to engage in safe, healthy outdoor activities now and into the future.

The Share Your Smile Challenge is currently set to run from mid-April through the month of May before the winners would be announced to receive a “thank-you” gift card for their participation. However, Dawn Turnage, Director of the City of Youngstown’s Parks and Recreation Department, decided she wanted to extend and expand the challenge in Youngstown through the summer and offer additional healthy “thank-you” rewards to those who participate. Ms. Turnage summarized the importance of the community challenge by saying that:

Dawn Turnage leads a group on a tour of Homestead Park in Youngstown during the first Day at the Park in 2018.

With the Share Your Smile Not Your Space campaign within the City of Youngstown Parks and beyond, residents will have the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities together while being apart. This is a health-based program that encourages residents to continue to exercise their bodies and minds by spending time outdoors in a safe socially distancing way.

Amplifying her colleague’s message, Ms. Rising also offers encouragement to for residents to go outside and be active: “Practice social distancing and #shareyoursmile at our local parks in the Mahoning Valley!”

In fact, Ms. Turnage used the Share Your Smile Challenge to successfully apply for a grant from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association to support the challenge as it evolves into its next phase—maybe even becoming a new Mahoning Valley tradition along with the Day at the Park, which has been an ongoing event since 2018.

Share Your Smile Press Clips:

Tribune Chronicle | OPRA COVID-19 Grants Press Release

A New Era for Our Park Areas

Members of the Healthy Community Partnership have come together quite often over the last two years to support each other and celebrate parks. In much the same way parks act as gathering spaces for families, friends, and neighbors, parks have provided the same benefits to Healthy Community Partnership members.

But, as we shared in an earlier reflection, “Caring about Nature, Neighborhoods, and Our Neighbors,” more has to be done to ensure that everyone feels like they belong and are welcome in our parks and public spaces. An article in CityLab by Brentin Mock responding to the recent event in New York City’s Central Park brought back painful memories and emotions for many about how African Americans and other people of color do not feel safe or welcomed in these spaces:

[P]olicies intended to foster feelings of safety and liberation can also invite more anxiety for black people so long as they are viewed as threatening, or, at best, with suspicion in public spaces…[T]hese peaceful green spaces just as easily induce anxiety and trauma for black and brown people.

Mahoning Valley Park Promoters at Quinby Park in Warren in 2019: From Left to Right: Denise Rising, Jenna Amerine, Dawn Turnage, Sarah Lowry

For parks to truly be a common ground, communities need to make sure that everyone has access to and feels welcomed in these spaces. These recent undertakings by members of the Healthy Community Partnership are first phases to highlight how many vibrant park spaces we have and what we need to do to work together to unlock their full potential. 

Our region has been lucky to have so many dedicated people over the years who have declared their love for parks. The names of many of these outdoor spaces share the names of many leaders of our region’s past: Crandall, Quinby, Wick, Packard.  Though the factories that shared the names with many of these former giants in our communities, have disappeared, the parks, the trees, the trails remain. The Mahoning Valley has a new generation of community leaders who have continued to plant, water, and share the seeds that will eventually blossom into beautiful parks and greens paces for future generations to enjoy. They have become our region’s very own Leslie Knopes

As the Healthy Community Partnership and community leaders continue to develop strategies to ensure a prosperous, equitable future or our region, it must include investments in parks for all people. We are eager to continue working together to praise, promote, and protect our parks so that residents can enjoy these incredible, inspirational spaces fully and without fear. 

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