One of the redeeming things about where I live is that I am within walking distance of a large park. The park has three playgrounds, a splash pad, and a frisbee golf course that runs along a creek. I often go to the golf course with Buddy, and he loves playing along the banks of the creek and hiking along the trails.
While these little hiking excursions are very enjoyable for Buddy and me, I also believe they serve as physical therapy for Buddy. To go hiking along the creek he has to climb up and down hills, walk over uneven terrain and experience different textures (mud, gravel, sand). He picks up rocks and sticks and throws them in the creek. He and Sissy got branches and were using them as makeshift swords today, which develops imaginary play skills which, as a child with autism, he NEEDS to develop, and imaginary play also fuels language development, which he also needs help with.
So this park means a lot to us. Buddy loves it. Sissy loves it and is now old enough that she has started hiking with us and enjoys it just as much as her brother. And I believe Buddy especially benefits from it.
Buddy alternates between times where he wants to play on the playground and times he wants to go to the frisbee golf course area to hike. We’d been doing a long stretch (several months) at the playground, but last week we alternated to the golf course. I was appalled when I saw it again after just a few months away from it. For one thing, a lot of garbage littered it, including tampon applicators. Worse, the erosion in the area from off road vehicles was noticeably worse.
The off road vehicles have been the bane of my existence since I started going to the park. They gleefully ignore the signs saying “no vehicles beyond this point” and tear the park apart. In addition to making me nervous about walking in the park, they do massive environmental damage. Every year the trails get more torn up and difficult to navigate. A few times I was terrified that me or Buddy was going to get run down, and I’ve dealt with too much catcalling and the like, some of it in front of my son, from the asshats in those vehicles. It makes what should be a relaxing environment an intimidating one.
I myself take refuge in nature. The silence. The solitude. The beauty. It’s therapy and healing for me. But every year it’s been getting harder. The sounds of nature are drowned out by the sounds of revving engines, the ability to go deep enough into the park to not see another person harder and harder because people speed through it. I feel less and less safe there.
So last week I noted the trash and erosion. In the distance I could hear an engine going, but they weren’t headed our way. I was a bit aghast. Typically I don’t have to worry about the off roaders in winter, but it’s been a mild one where I live this year, so I guess they’ve continued to go out.
Today I took my children out, expecting a fun evening in the park. When we got to the fork in the trail where we had to decide if we were going to go hiking or go to the playgrounds, both kids enthusiastically chose hiking. Both ran as fast as they could to the creek. Buddy even grabbed the first rock he found and carried it with him so he could throw it in.
When we got there we found a red pick up truck crashed in the creek. No one was in it. A few seconds later, about ten off roaders pulled up. Jeeps, trucks, 4 wheelers. All big, all loud, all scary.
For Buddy, this was like Christmas being canceled. I tried to pull him away from the creek and he had a meltdown. And frustrating as it was, I couldn’t blame him. He’d done nothing wrong, but because of a group of idiots, he couldn’t play in the creek like he wanted. When he started crying, Sissy started crying. Reigning in BOTH of them on my own and leaving was not possible. Typically when I leave a place Buddy is not ready to leave I just start walking and he’ll follow me when I get a certain distance away, but with a group of off road vehicles there I sure as hell was not doing that, so I had to settle for keeping them as far away as I could. I took a picture and called the police, scared out of my wits that one of my kids would be run over or one of the off roaders would have figured out I’d called the police and would shoot me (I live in Texas, where we even do open carry now. Lucky me.)
While waiting for the police they got the truck out. They were literally driving away as the police pulled up. I showed them the picture I’d taken and they recognized several of the vehicles as repeat offenders. They confirmed that we were on park land where off road vehicles are not allowed but said they were having a difficult time stopping them for reasons.
This whole situation has me frustrated and incredibly angry. My tax dollars go to that park. My kids have a right to play in the park safely without having to worry about being run over. Heck, I have a right to enjoy the park without worrying about being run over and catcalled! And we all owe it to ourselves to keep this planet habitable!
And now I’m stuck in a horrible position. After today I am scared to use the park that I feel Buddy has benefited so much from! Since he doesn’t understand the danger posed by those vehicles and will not follow my directions when I say we need to leave, and since this is becoming a more frequent problem, it is not safe for me to take them there. Yes, I could drive to another park, but by driving to another park I would be getting into my vehicle and adding to my carbon footprint everyday and it just seems wasteful and ridiculous to do so when I have an amazing park that takes less than ten minutes to walk to from my house!
Further, in Texas, people do not walk short distances. I know people who live in the suburbs who drive to their mailbox. It doesn’t even take me a minute to walk to my mailbox, but people drive that distance. I am not exaggerating. I lived a block away from my high school, and people who lived on my block would drive to the school. And when I lived on the on campus apartments in college, I was aghast at how many people who also lived in those apartments would pay extra for on campus parking when everything on campus was a reasonable five minute walk from the apartments! And, depending on which apartments you were in, sometimes the apartment parking was closer than the student parking.
I believe walking is good for our health and the environment. And I want to set that example for my children by walking to as many places as I can. So by driving to another park when there’s a good park within walking distance undermines that.
So I’m in a horrible and frustrating position. And just left wondering when we as a species are going to wake up to what we are destroying.