In a sight to behold, Obed Rivera stood in front of a crowd of 300 volunteers, city of San Jose staff, elected officials, family and neighbors, as he accepted the Anti-Litter Program Volunteer of the Year Award. The award was one of several presented at the annual volunteer appreciation event hosted earlier this month by Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services (PRNS).
We previously talked about the need for an active, empowered role for citizens in the stewardship of San Jose’s parks and trails. The significant cutbacks in budget and personnel have left city staff to do more work with less people and less money. The solution is to create multi-partnerships with citizens, neighborhood associations, businesses and community groups to provide a collective stewardship for the future.
The concept of stewardship is one that has become much more prominent in our environmental discussions in recent years, especially as it pertains to our parks, trails and urban open spaces. Webster defines stewardship as: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
Thanks to the work of the staff of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, and under the recent leadership of trails manager Yves Zsutty, San Jose’s entire trail system has undergone an amazing transformation.
Two years ago, I approached the talented group Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company and asked staff to walk through Willow Glen’s Bramhall Park with me to see if they would consider performing at the venue. At first glance, it was viewed as less desirable, due to the fact that the grass was dead in the summer, and the amphitheater had electrical connections that no longer functioned and sub-optimal lighting. Despite these less than ideal circumstances, we agreed to keep in touch.
There is finally some good news on the San Jose Park Ranger front. Current plans are for the force to be increased next year. In addition to completing basic law enforcement training, park rangers have a unique set of skills and serve as ambassadors for our parks and trails.
I have previously written about the various groups in the community that must play key roles in preserving, protecting and enhancing our parks and trails. These parties include neighborhood associations, service clubs, youth groups, church groups, schools, businesses, corporations and others. Another key component is that of citizen volunteers.
Last Saturday, a modest group of runners, bicyclists and community leaders gathered on a trail near San Jose’s airport for a quietly auspicious occasion—the completion of the Guadalupe River Trail from San Jose to Alviso.
Contemporary American cities are at a defining moment in many ways. Traditional, reliable sources of revenue have been reduced. Reductions in federal and state spending have added to the burden by cutting or removing direct funding for city programs. But I am optimistic about the future of San Jose’s parks system, and there are some very specific reasons why.
San Jose Parks Foundation, as I mentioned in my first column, was born out of an enlightened look into the future. Funding for parks and trails has been cut to the bone and sometimes worse. Urban and suburban parks are essential economic factors in every municipality. They often are invisible in the economic picture that most of us have.