It’s put into the air when a person with an infection of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks or sings. People nearby may breathe it in and become infected. Sounds like COVID-19, but actually it’s a description of tuberculosis, better known as TB, the leading killer during the 1800s and a top killer well into the 1900s. But the disease could have also had a hand in helping to create the park systems we still use today, including our local parks.
Historically, TB — also known as consumption due to the associated weight loss — has been with humans for thousands of years. People knew that TB was spread person-to-person via particles in the air and they lived in constant fear of being plagued by a silent killer while out in public. Sun therapy, known as heliotherapy, was then and is still considered effective in fighting off TB. With the general understanding that sunlight was a valid defense in fighting the disease, being outside and away from others seemed the logical decision.
When the growing nation was mostly rural homesteads on hundreds of acres, social distancing to limit the spread of TB was not an issue. As the urban populations grew, however, a need for an outdoor natural setting grew as well. People in cities needed a place to get out and enjoy nature. The idea of the commons, or the use of land or resources as belonging to or affecting the whole of the community, is hardwired into American culture. The Boston Common, in downtown Boston, dating back to 1634, is the oldest city park in the country. As the population grew, the popularity of parks grew as well, with 16 parks created before 1800. The idea of the National Parks begins in 1872 with the creation of Yellowstone National Park, which led to the 58 National Parks across the nation we have today.
The National Parks Service was created on Aug. 25, 1916, by then-President Woodrow Wilson. He signed a bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Shortly thereafter, the Akron Metropolitan Park District (now Summit Metro Parks) was established on Dec. 31, 1921. In 1925, the first small plot of land was donated to the park system at Old Portage Trail at the intersection of North Portage Path and Merriman Road. Later that year, during Akron’s 100-year celebration, a small bronze plaque on a boulder was placed to mark the occasion, which is still there today.
The years 1914 to 1925 were a significant shock to the country, with World War I, tuberculosis, and 1918 flu pandemic. Thousands died. Everyone knew someone who had died, and for many, it was family members and many times more than one. People were overly stressed, and they needed a place to escape from the wars, pandemics and death that was everywhere in society. The people needed outdoor, public gardens, and nature. They needed to feel the security of sunlight on their skin, and wind in their hair, while in the glory of nature. They needed an escape, and the Public Park System was there for them then, and it’s still here for us now.
Next year, 2021, will be the 100th anniversary of the Summit Metro Parks, and they are more relevant and of value today than ever. What started as a small plot of land has turned into over 14,100 acres of parkland, with 16 parks, six conservatory areas, and around 150 miles of trail that gets over five million annual visits. There is something for everyone at the Summit Metro Parks, from hiking trails and biking trails to open fields and, most importantly, nature. Akron is truly blessed to have so many parks for our residents to get out into the open air and not only enjoy but exercise, learn and bathe in the sunlight.
As history tends to repeat itself, we are once again amid a global pandemic and stalked by an invisible killer. The fear of spreading the virus has led to the practice of social distancing once again. The Summit Metro Parks are there for you and are located just about everywhere in Akron. The Parks’ website, www.summitmetroparks.org, lists all the available parks and trails.
A few guidelines to follow while visiting the parks during the COVID-19 pandemic to help stop the spread of the virus.
- Most importantly, stay at home if you are sick or even feeling sick.
- Use the bathroom before going to the park as most restrooms are closed. (limited restrooms are available)
- Take water to keep hydrated, as all public drinking fountains are shut down.
- Properly wash your hands and limit touching objects such as signs and benches.
- Protective masks are recommended to help keep everyone healthy.
- Practice social distancing of at least six feet or more while hiking on the trails and give people the same space as they are passing you on the trails.
- Carry your trash out with you; do not leave it at the park.
- Obey any closures to trails, playgrounds, or other areas.
- Keep in touch by checking the website before visiting to check on any changes.
- If an area you want to visit is overcrowded, try a different trail or location.
- Have fun, breathe, and enjoy.
During these hard times, the parks are important and essential to not only our mental well-being but physical health as well. To help ensure that the parks stay open, it’s important that visitors follow all rules. For example, you may feel fine and have no symptoms of COVID-19 at all, but you could be contagious and spreading it to others. Please for the safety of all, follow the guidelines above.
If you are healthy and able to get out and enjoy the Metro Parks, I highly recommend it, and I also feel you should do it daily. If you do get out to and enjoy the Summit Metro Parks, follow the rules, slow down a bit, and enjoy nature and all of its healing properties.
Link to full interview with Lindsay Smith of Summit Metro Parks:
Around Akron with Blue Green is broadcast on PBS Western Reserve. https://westernreservepublicmedia.org/around-akron-with-blue-green.htm
Be sure to check out the May 2020 episode of Around Akron with Blue Green for a segment on Summit Metro Parks with Lindsay Smith.
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