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Here's to You/Bemidji Parks and Recreation: Parks provide big benefit to communities

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As the snow melts and the brown/green shreds of grass peek out from the snow, many of us have that feeling to get outside.

We want to climb on the playground, swing on swings, walk the trails, have picnics in the park -- the list of spring and summer fun we crave goes on and on. But have you ever thought about how these playgrounds, green spaces and trails benefit you, your neighbors and your community?

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Parks & recreation departments around the country provide essential services to their communities -- health and environmental benefits, economic value and social importance. Essential? Yes, just as water, sewer and public safety provide the city's citizens with basic needs, the parks provide the vitally important need of establishing and maintaining quality of life in the community, ensuring the heath of families and contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of your community and the region.

Communities that have active parks and recreation departments are the ones where there is pride in the community. These are the communities in which businesses thrive. They are destinations, places people from all over come to visit and stay for the weekend, a week or a season.

Health, environment

As we know, parks are places that people go to gather and celebrate. Parks are also where people go to get healthy and stay fit. Walking in the park is a key to better health. In Bemidji, we are extremely fortunate to have beautiful parks, landscapes and walking trails. This summer, the DNR, in a cooperative effort with the city of Bemidji, will complete the South Shore Trail. This is an extension of the Paul Bunyan State Trail that will follow the south shore corridor from The Sanford Center to Paul Bunyan Drive, where it will meet the West Shore Trail. The West Shore Trail begins at the Paul and Babe statues and follows the lake through Diamond Point Park and on to Cameron Park. The new South Shore Trail will be a paved 1.2-mile stretch that will provide a safe and great walking path for all Bemidji citizens.

While those winter months maybe cold, you can take advantage of a sunny day as The Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department keeps the trail clear of snow, along Paul Bunyan Drive, over the state Highway 197 bridge, along the West Shore trail from Paul and Babe at the waterfront to Diamond Point Park. This provides a safe and serene walking path in the cold months.

The Fit City designation is the heart of the year-round city recreation programming. Some of the programs provided by the Parks and Recreation Department are centered on eating healthier, as well as walking, running and fitness classes. These programs and services contribute to the health of our community, children and adults and seniors. The Center for Disease Control has stated that parks and recreation departments that promote, create and improve places to be physically active actually improve individual and community health. A single visit to the park can keep you healthier. According to a study conducted at Penn State University, visiting a park for any length of time significantly reduce stress and lowers blood pressure.

Economic value

Parks improve the local tax base and increase property value. Texas A&M conducted a review of 25 studies that investigated parks and open spaces. The review found that 80 percent of studies verified that properties near open spaces had higher property values.

"The real estate market consistently demonstrated that many people are willing to pay a larger amount for property located close to parks and open space areas than a home that does not offer this amenity," the review stated.

The trees that line the boulevard, fill the parks and are lighted so beautifully the night after Thanksgiving actually provide the city with a very beneficial cost savings. Trees in the city can save a potential $400 billion dollars in storm water retention facility costs.

Active parks and recreation departments are recognized as one of the top three reasons why local business stay active and why businesses locate in those communities.

Recreation programs cover a significant amount of operating costs from revenue generated from fees and charges. The goal is to keep fees low for residents, yet pay for the operating supplies needed for the programs.

Recreation programs, special events, festivals and tournaments that are hosted in parks, trails and open spaces also provide significant and indirect revenues to local and regional businesses and economics. Hospitality expenditures, tourism, fuel, recreational equipment, sales and rental businesses and many other private-sector businesses can benefit greatly from the many programs and festivals that take place in parks.

Social importance

Parks and open spaces are gathering spaces for families and groups. Did you know that our Diamond Point Park hosts numerous weddings, family reunions, graduation parties, office meetings, company picnics and many other special social engagements?

This reflects the community's quality of life, providing the community with an identity that reflects the lifestyle of the community. Parks are valued and appreciated by the residents in the community. In a research project on human development in Chicago neighborhoods, it was determined that community involvement at neighborhood parks can be associated with decreased levels of crime, vandalism and juvenile delinquency.

Parks add value to a community that transcends any dollar figure, investment or revenue programs gain. Parks and recreation programs provide communities with a sense of belonging and a sense of community and add cohesion, pride and activity to the residents' life. Take pride in your Parks and Recreation system, join activities and feel the benefits of parks for yourself.

Samantha Parker is the event coordinator for the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department.

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