Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Transformative Power of Parks

Overpeck Park dock view    photo/Danielle Pedoto

By Danielle Pedoto

Have you ever taken the time to sit back at your favorite local park and appreciate the beautiful outdoors? If not, I believe this is something everyone should do. Growing up in a town where parks were filled with graffiti and vandalism, I never got to feel that connection to nature and connection to my community that people who have beautiful parks in their neighborhoods do. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a town that is filled with clean, beautiful parks, perhaps you never took the time to really enjoy it, and take advantage of the effects something like a simple walk in the park can have on your overall attitude towards life.

In 2010 I was lucky enough to have one of these clean, beautiful parks be built close to my home. What used to be a garbage dump and an environmental hazard was cleaned up and transformed into what is today called Overpeck County Park.  Overpeck is located on Challenger Boulevard in Ridgefield Park, NJ. It’s transformation took place over many years; however, it was well worth the wait.

Overpeck has become a huge part of my community and a huge part of my life. Overpeck has so much to offer. It has a children’s playground that is filled with unique playground toys, swings, and obstacles. It has five miles of paths that can be used for walking, running, bike riding, or my personal favorite, rollerblading. It also has an observation deck and nature overlook to enjoy the beautiful lake that the park surrounds And they now made it possible to rent canoes and kayaks to take into the lake and enjoy the water! For all the sports lovers, the park also offers a softball field, a baseball field, two turf soccer fields, and six tennis courts. The park is filled with activities for people of all ages, sizes, and interests. The park is always filled with great people that are there for the same reason as you and that is to simply enjoy the day and to enjoy life.

Besides all of these fantastic amenities, the park is also a gathering place for many cultures and community events. For example, on April 14th a walk to raise money for MS (Multiple Sclerosis) was held at Overpeck Park and was a big hit. This was one of the first times in my life where I saw people I knew from all the surrounding towns come together for a good cause. This was one of the first times that I was able to say that I felt like part of a community.  Overpeck is also the place where many other community events take place such as carnivals, wine testing, car shows, and even events that you can enjoy with your furry companion in an event called “bark in the park”!

This park has brought my community together and has brought out something in me that I never knew I had. I found my love for rollerblading and passion for the outdoors. The feeling that I get when I visit Overpeck with family, friends, or even alone is indescribable. I feel at home and at peace and it has ultimately helped me choose my major field of study, Therapeutic Recreation. This park has helped me figure out my calling in life because I was able to see firsthand the way nature, creativity, play, exercise and community have a great effect on people of all ages and more importantly the effect on elders and people with special needs.

Teresa Morgana, a town local, stated “I spend a lot of time with my little cousin who has autism, and have been taking him here once a week for a little over a year and I can honestly say since taking him here, I have seen him grow physically and psychologically; he overall is most happy when he is at this park.” This goes to show just how important parks are to not only communities but individuals and their personal lives.

 Overpeck Park lake view             photo/Danielle Pedoto

When you see such a beautiful place evolve from a landfill it really makes you believe that anything is possible. I firmly believe that every community should have a place like Overpeck to grow closer to their community and grow closer to themselves. I also believe that people that already have these beautiful parks should be sure to take advantage of them and to spend more time there. The transformation from landfill to Overpeck Park was truly the transformation that transformed my life.

Danielle Pedoto is a junior at Saint Thomas Aquinas College, majoring in Therapeutic Recreation. She is very artistic and loves to express herself through painting, coloring, and writing. She also loves to be outdoors. In her spare time, Danielle enjoys rollerblading and just being outside in nature. When it comes to future plans, Danielle wants to be a recreational therapist for children with special needs.

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