A few months ago, I heard a radio talk show host say that the most successful park in California is Disneyland. My lifetime of sensibilities towards parks felt shredded by the remark. How could anyone confuse an amusement park with the concepts that gave us our treasured public parks?
As I listened to the show, it became clear that the commentator had gathered park concessionaires for a look at their wares. They had a financial objectivity deemed necessary to save parks from financial ruin caused by government bureaucracy. There was no concern for the concepts of preservation and protection that justified the creation of our magnificent parks over the past 150 years.
How do we make a distinction between an amusement or theme park and what we have traditionally known as parks? Land for parks is chosen based on the assessment of qualities that represent cultural or natural history worthy of preservation. Once preserved, park land and structures are protected from abuse and decay for the enjoyment of generations of visitors. Park staff has the objective of helping visitors find a sense of the real that has been lost in the everyday detached reality of life they must face.
Theme parks in contrast focus on presenting a fantasy that takes us away from reality without considering the need to touch the whole person. No relatable identity is present; it is merely an escape for people who are willing to pay a large sum to have a moment’s pleasure. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not worthy of support from our tax dollar nor should it be allowed in our parks.
Let’s be suspect of those who offer to save parks by offering amusement activities for financial gain. The money sphere often is a distortion of park values. Those who drink from the money sphere will tell you of the pleasure received while insisting that it isn’t being too mischievous.
Beware of all attempts to turn our eyes away from what is our American River Parkway heritage. Demand action to stop special events that are an inappropriate use, recreation facilities that overwhelm natural park features, recreation activities that provide mainly amusement and are a distraction from what the park offers, and agreements that benefit concessionaires but detract from the real purpose of the parkway. Let’s all be good stewards of our American River Parkway. SARA is here to help you achieve this goal.
Dan Winkelman is a SARA director and retired park ranger.