In the short history of this little blog, you may have noticed that sometimes I’ll write spur-of-the-moment pieces about different things I see or otherwise experience on my runs. I choose to run outside (treadmills and tracks generally don’t do much for me) because seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling the outdoors is what makes running interesting to me. Well, that and the fitness benefits.
But something I have to say is how underappreciated our public spaces are.
I don’t want to go into a public policy debate, or revisit the whole Turkey Mountain issue. This is more of an appreciation.
The other day I went out to Tulsa’s River Parks. This is a good place for long weekend runs or otherwise a pleasant flat track to get some miles in. It was about 65 degrees with a slight south breeze and overcast.
I didn’t go out with an agenda. I’d get a few miles, maybe more. I’ve found running like this doesn’t do much for achieving training goals, but it frees me to absorb what going on around me.
River Parks follow the banks of the Arkansas River, leading from downtown Tulsa to the city’s far south side.
So it’s basically one long, very skinny green space with one wide spot that is home to a rugby field and various stations on a really lengthy Frisbee golf course. A divided, paved trail gives ample room for runners and walkers on one side and bikers on the other.
One would think the cloud cover would shoo some people away, but that wasn’t the case. People were out there in droves. People on bikes and skateboards. Folks running solo and on groups. People walking their dogs or taking their kids out for s stroll.
Visitors can cross to the west bank on a busy bridge on the north and a pedestrian bridge to the south. Sometimes you’ll see anglers trying to see what they can catch out of Zink Lake, which is really just a wider spot in the river created by a dam. Rowers also like to come to Zink Lake.
There are benches and water fountains about every mile or so, and a pretty big plaza at 41st Street where there are restrooms, a small water park and a play area for kids.
The city has done something interesting, in allowing a restaurant to exist within the park area. It’s been carefully integrated into the park so that people can freely use it without interfering with the business and vice versa. The business also has a seasonal outdoor bar area.
After my run, I went to the lawn just north of that bar to stretch. A couple dozen people were outside enjoying a drink and just hanging out. They had Bob Marley playing over the sound system about the time when I spotted a beefy dude, sans shirt and with long dreadlocks, skateboarding by.
There were kids everywhere, usually with parents in tow. Sometimes I’d spy a group of skateboarding or biking teens riding by.
What struck me is that with the exception of the people spending money at the bar or the restaurant, everyone else here was having a good time, and doing so for free. Yep, aside from the gas burned getting here, folks were able to come to the park, spend a few hours having some fun outside, and maybe even get some exercise without spending a dime.
A family matinee will run you some pretty good coin, particularly if you hit the snack bar. Same is true of a baseball or basketball game. And theme parks go even higher.
I think that’s what I love about public spaces. Obviously, I like people watching. But the real value here is that you have a community investing in something without the expectation of a financial return, but deeming it worthwhile because the real “return on investment” is public well-being.
My hope is more people see how worthwhile green spaces are. I see them as excellent places to train, but also as mini-escapes. Many others find other, equally worthy uses for them.
So go ahead. Step out of the car and take off on foot. There’s no admission, just a willingness to get out and move.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088