MHLbannersmall It's time to recreate in the parks

If you think of a hit TV comedy series when you see or hear the words, "Parks and Recreation" this is the month to broaden your horizons. Designated by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) as Parks and Recreation Month, July is an ideal time to get outside and enjoy parks of all sizes, shapes and purposes.

Nolan Trail From Yosemite to the Marsh Street Pool and Park in Tappahannock; from the Everglades to Beaverdam Park in Gloucester; from the Appalachian Trail to the Noland Trail in Newport News; from the Grand Canyon to Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore; and from Yellowstone to the Quarterpath Recreation Center and Park in Williamsburg, the parks that exist in our imagination and in our actual communities are ready for action.

All that's needed is your presence and here are some good reasons why we all need parks and why you should take advantage of the opportunities they provide:

  • Far From the Crowd: Whether it's a pocket park of an acre or less, a seashore refuge, or a national park covering hundreds of square miles, it represents a chance for you to get away from the noise and distractions that surround us in ever increasing amounts. Although many parks offer a wide range of recreation and activity and can be crowded, you can almost always find a place to get away and think, reflect or talk quietly face-to-face with a friend.

  • Pocahontas State ParkHealthier People: Many parks are also great places to get some exercise. You can put together a pick-up softball game or bring your bicycle. You (or more likely younger members in your group) can use the playground. If there's water around, a whole new category of activities opens up. Or you can jog, walk or, in the right circumstances, head out on a major backpacking trek.

    No matter what activity you choose, studies show that when communities offer safe options for recreation, the health and well-being of residents improves, including lower obesity rates, reduced stress and depression and an overall lowering of risks for chronic health conditions.

  • Healthier Communities: There's a good reason that large parks are sometimes called the "lungs" of a city. The expanses of grass and the trees provide oxygen and a bit of air filtration. Parks also provide a place where children can play, relatively safely, and where people of all ages can come together to build and strengthen community ties.

    As part of an overall healthier community, parks often provide an area where pets can be walked or even run off leash, as well as a safer haven for wildlife. In fact, seeing nature at play, from squirrels and birds on up, is an important part of the park experience for many people.

  • The Economic Dividend: Among the many exercise, contemplation and recreation benefits that parks provide, they also provide an economic impact. For example, proximity to parks can improve property values. Parks and recreation departments also provide a number of employment opportunities for people in the community, including summer jobs and intern programs for students.

As part of your personal celebration of National Parks and Recreation Month, you might want to do a little research and find a park or a recreational opportunity in the region that you've never accessed before. Or you just might want to go back to your old favorite. Either way, and no matter where you live, enjoy the chance to get away to the park of your choice, even if it's only for a brief time.