A healthy parks system builds community

His laughter fit a day when spring made winter seem far away. We heard him approaching from a distance.

As they rounded a bend and came into view, his chuckles came with each footfall of his father, who was jogging while pushing his ride-tickled toddler in a stroller on the Prairie Creek Greenway trail. A child’s sheer joy added even more pleasure to a walk with redbud trees in pinkish full bloom and the sun pulling new greenery skyward.

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

Thank goodness prior Platte County Commission members created a parks and trails system.

A winter that brought snow and cold early in autumn and lingered into spring is past. Trees that seem to be sprouting leaves overnight say it is so. Plenty of snow and some late rain meant roots were full of moisture and ready to kick start all that grows. Spring seems abrupt when just a few balmy days put the first flowers in bloom.

My friend and I entered the Prairie Creek trail on Sunday from the parking lot off Route N. First we walked north. The trail climbs slightly uphill past meadows that were once farm fields. When the trail brushed near wooded hillsides

I could not resist looking for morel. Maybe they are yet to appear, or perhaps someone beat me to them, but at least it’s nice to have a place to look for them. We turned back and went down the southward loop.

Winter was so long and cold. Many days were cloudy and bleary as we rode out the cold. So to be sun drenched, downright hot even, seems strange, even though it is late April.

I miss winter already, just a little bit, even as I welcome spring. There is a quiet in winter that is restful. No grass needs to be mowed in the yard. It’s too cold to go fishing. The unused things in the garage that need to go to the charity store can wait for better weather. Suddenly nature is busy and human life gets more so, too.

But a good walk in the countryside is a good excuse to let the outdoor chores wait for another day. A lot of other people, all ages, had the same idea.

We met an older couple taking the stroll. They commented on some better upkeep needed on a rain garden near the trail. But they noted the beauty in the gnarly shape of a chinquapin oak growing up against the bluff. They usually walk the Line Creek Trail that the county in partnership with Kansas City helped create. But they drive north to visit this trail, too.

Joggers ran past us, some alone and some in pairs. Some breathed deep from a long run while others were just starting out. One gentleman, gung ho in the season, dropped beside the trail for pushups. Go man go.

“Ding ding ding,” rang the little bells on bicycles coming up fast behind us. Regular riders are quite courteous to the walkers and work to avoid a collision. These are shared asphalt pathways. Directly toward us came another group of cyclists, all youngsters, perhaps grade school or junior high age. They were laughing their way down the trail, too. Their homes are not far away.

The greenway mostly follows creek valleys. Houses are somewhat visible on hilltops, especially in winter. But in summer are hard to see, and the trail is a place remote with some wild woods and moving water to see, a change of pace. We noted a spring flowing from limestone at the base of a hill.

Platte County’s website notes that the Prairie Creek Greenway was created in partnership with developers. The greenway has other accesses from subdivisions. Similar partnerships and cooperative planning have made possible other trails in the county, too. They are part of a plan to have linked trails throughout the Kansas City metro area. Parks and trails enhance a community.

A healthy county parks program can provide an overview and funding. Johnson County, Kansas, is a metro leader in showing how county parks and trails add to the beauty, vitality, and outdoor opportunities that make communities a pleasure to live in. They also enhance property values.

Platte County’s residents have supported a half-cent sales tax for parks twice. They likely would again because they like parks. The tax has supported parks the county owns and improvement projects in parks cities own. People like having good places for their kids to play soccer, softball and baseball.

In the April 2 election, Parkville voters supported a half-cent sales tax for their parks by almost a 70 percent margin. That was in part because the current Platte County Commission has stated they will seek less funding for parks when it’s time to renew a sales tax for parks. This was in the same election when countywide voters defeated the current commission’s proposal for a half-cent sales tax for a new jail and other improvements by nearly a 62 percent margin.

There’s no doubt that Platte County voters do want a healthy law enforcement system. But those election results may have sent a signal that they want healthy parks, too.