Podcast

Parks Keep Us Healthy

Triangle Gardener podcast logoThe National Park Service is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.  Parks help keep us fit, reduce stress, and improve social connections. But they also play a vital role in supporting our urban environments.  In this episode we visit with Dr. Myron Floyd of NC State University’s Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management department and learn about the ways we benefit when we visit a park.  Then we head west to Boone, NC to visit the Clawson Burnely park to discover how it helps clean the water we all drink.

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Thanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible 

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As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show

JENKINS

Welcome to the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. This year the National Park Service is celebrating their 100th anniversary.  Now when I hear the words “National Park” I think of the big grand parks out west, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone.  But most of our us live in urban centers and we’re more likely to experience our local parks.  I talked with two experts who gave me very different takes on why parks matter in our lives.

FLOYD

Find your park, use it, enjoy it.

JENKINS

Thanks to Garden Destinations who sponsored this story.  Garden Destinations is a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include the world’s finest public gardens and garden destinations in their travel plans.  You can find them at their website, GardenDestinations.com

Now, here’s today’s story…

FLOYD

Well I’m Myron Floyd, professor and department head at NC State in the department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management.  My research area deals with the role of public parks and green space and promoting public health.  Over the last 10 years I focused on how parks and, primarily urban parks, how they contribute to physical activity.  But that work is expanding to include other health outcomes —such as mental health.

JENKINS

Dr. Floyd, gardeners spend time outside and we get a lot of physical activity.  But beyond the bug bites and sunburn is being outside in our gardens actually good for us?

FLOYD

We have research that shows that parks and green space helps to reduce or alleviate stress.  That is important for a number of reasons.  We live stressful lives.  Most of us who work day to day there’s a lot going on. Parks and green space provide a place where we can go to and get some relief.  Not only that, there are studies that show that being exposed to green during our workday, a short walk during work or having green outside a window can help us in terms of our mental well being.

There’s a third category.  I talked about physical activity being a big benefit, a health benefit to parks.  There’s this cognitive, this mental health benefit.  There’s also research that shows that green space, and gardens can be one of those, one type of green space, they provide social benefits.  So they allow communities, people in communities to come together and be more neighborly.  So that’s a benefit in terms of social cohesion, we have this sense of community that we can share this garden space and there’s shared ownership.  That promotes community —when we think about what a community is, people coming together and having a common bond and similar values.  Gardens in that way and other similar types of shared green space, have that kind of social benefit.

JENKINS

Most of us live in urban centers.  What’s in the future for parks?

FLOYD

That’s a great question.  Right now about 80% of the population in the US, and around the world, lives in an urban or urbanizing area. That will increase as you mention.  The role of parks and green space will become more important because of the different benefits it provides.  Also because other ecosystems, whether its helping to clean air, purify water, provide habitat for wildlife, a number of benefits and ecoservices that parks and green spaces provide.  So in that sense those areas will become more important.  The challenge will be how to provide all kinds of green space, provide access to those so that different parts of the population can have access to it.

JENKINS

Dr. Floyd’s comment about parks purifying water got me thinking about a young woman I know who’s work focuses on just that.

PATOPRSTY

Hi, I’m Wendy Patoprsty, I am a Natural Resources Extension agent for Watauga County.

JENKINS

Since we recorded this interview Wendy has moved on to work with the Blue Ridge Conservancy. But when we talked she took me on a tour of an urban park that not only serves her local community, it also provides an important benefit to where I live over 150 miles away.

PATOPRSTY

Right now, we are in a fabulous, wonderful community space in Boone, NC. It’s actually a park along the greenway, its a long linear park that’s along the headwaters of the New River in the New River watershed.  It’s the Clawson Burnley Park.

JENKINS

This park reclaimed an area that had been condemned by FEMA.  It’s now a beautiful park bordering the headwaters of the New River. It’s well loved by the people in Boone but it also acts like a filter protecting the river from the stormwater that would otherwise drain directly into it.

PATOPRSTY

So the stormwater wetland that’s over here is about 1.4 acres.  Its got a trail around the whole thing for people to view it.  It captures about 44 acres of land surface that drains into the wetland.  It used to drain into the head waters of the New River.  And now it captures water from baseball fields, parking lots, rooftops, roads, all the things you can see around here.  Its captures a lot.  Its starts at the beginning, like I said it’s linear, it starts up top and it flows down in a linear space into 13 or 14 pools that help clean the water before it gets back into the New River.

JENKINS

You mentioned earlier that you’ve done some studies about the water quality and the river, tell me about that.

PATOPRSTY

It’s really fun.  Since we’re in a university town we’ve got university students who can use this wetland as research and as student projects.  So over the past five years we’ve had lots of students coming out and monitoring water quality, how plants are up taking nutrients, up taking heavy metals, and other pollutants and seeing what it is at the beginning and the end and seeing those reductions.  And then also, it’s a wonderful space for young kids.  We bring out anywhere from kindergarten to eight grade students out here to monitor and look at the river.  Look at the wetland and compare and contrast, how is a river  different from a wetland? And so we can look at the pH, and the temperature, and dissolved oxygen, and even the critters.  All the dragonfly larva are different from the pond to the river.  So the kids really enjoy it.  It’s fascinating to look at the vegetation that surrounds the wetlands versus a river.  It’s just a great tool for outdoor education here in town.  So we get kids from all the different elementary schools to come out and the university and even the community.  We do community tours out here and people who are interested in native plants and insects and just learning about water quality and how a water shed functions.  So it’s a great outdoor classroom

JENKINS

This park helps clean up the water flowing into the New River.  That river supplies water to communities in the western part of our state. There are 17 major river basins in North Carolina and they’re interconnected. So I had to ask Wendy if down in Durham I should care about the rain falling up here in the mountains.

PATOPRSTY

Absolutely, it’s so fascinating up here in the mountains.  We have this, here in Boone we are at the top of the mountain. There’s no rivers flowing into our county, it’s all flowing out.  So when it rains here, if the rain water hits the rooftop, goes into a ditch, goes into a stream, that is rainwater that we can’t use again.  So it’s flowing off the mountain and it’s not recharging our groundwater.  So these little stormwater control measures, or BMPs that we are talking about, are super important to capture that stormwater, capture that rainwater that comes off the rooftop to infiltrate it back into the ground.  And let it slowly recharge through all of our soils.  We’ve got great soils for rain gardens and grassy swales and great infiltration rates.  It’s really a wonderful thing to capture that water, put it in a rain garden to where it can recharge our groundwater.  Because that groundwater is connected to our rivers.  That’s why we have water in our streams up here in the headwaters even when we haven’t had rain in two weeks.  The rivers are still flowing because its coming from that groundwater.  That’s why our rivers are so cold and our trout can live here because it’s cold.

JENKINS

That cold water would feel great when I’m coming in from working in my garden.  I’m often dirty and tired. Sometimes bug bitten or a little banged up.  But I always feel better. Dr. Floyd is right, my garden is like a little urban park.  I get exercise, relax, and socialize with my neighbors who inevitably stop and ask what I’m working on.

But as Wendy showed me, urban parks help protect our health in a different way.  By filtering stormwater the Clawson Burnley park helps keep the water in our river system cleaner. That’s our drinking water.  It matters how we treat it.

The National Park Service is running a campaign encouraging us to Find Our Park.  My park isn’t some far away place.  It’s the Umstead State Park near my house.  But I’m starting to think of the Clawson Burnely park in Boone as my park too.  After all it protects my drinking water.

To find out what you can do to help protect our parks visit our website TriangleGardener.com.  There you’ll find links to park listings and other resources.  You’ll also find other episodes from our podcast and stories from our magazine. We’re also on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review.  I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Thanks for listening.