Newsmakers: Three Rivers Park Dist. Encourages Diverse Groups to Use Parks
At a time when park use has skyrocketed because of the pandemic, Three Rivers Park District has been involved in an initiative to encourage more underrepresented groups to use the parks. Amanda Fong with Three Rivers says this has involved a multi-faceted approach, that includes identifying and removing barriers to access.
How it started
“About six years ago, we started this community engagement team and our role is really in building relationships and partnerships in communities that are underrepresented within Three Rivers and with outdoor spaces in general,” said Amanda Fong, a community engagement supervisor with Three Rivers. “That’s a lot of building connections with trusted community leaders, with organizations, having a staff that’s representative of our community as a whole and a lot of listening as we are building those relationships.”
Fong says some of the discussions have involved finding out what groups want to do, identifying what the barriers to access are in those spaces, and then planning around those barriers.
“There’s a complex web of things that can keep folks from accessing the outdoors,” said Fong. “For sure, there’s cost to participate, access to equipment and having the right gear to be out safely and warmly in all weather.”
Fong says there are also barriers of not having the knowledge for how to do an activity and then representation matters too.
“Oftentimes, it’s representation and seeing yourself and your culture within the community or within the activity and park spaces,” said Fong.
Some popular areas of interest so far? Biking and Camping.
Two things that have emerged over the last couple of years has been an interest in biking and camping. Both can have barriers to access.
One solution to the camping conundrum has been Three Rivers organizing a trailer full of gear that’s equipped for 50 people to go out camping with a leader.
“We’ll bring community leaders, youth workers out and we’ll train them on how to run their own overnight experience,” said Fong. “The intention is to take the recreational professional out of the mix so they become the expert and bring their own community where they have relationships into outdoor spaces.”
Fong says they started with providing group equipment and now they have individual kits so families can check out gear, go on an orientation and then get started.
Biking has also been a successful endeavor.
“There are alot of folks if you don’t learn how to ride a bike as a child, it’s a lot harder and a little more intimidating to learn how to do that,” said Fong. “We have a fleet of bikes and are just doing a group of cohort learn-to-ride sessions.”
The first six-week cohort with a group of 10 East African women was a success.
“It’s really rewarding work, in beautiful outdoor spaces,” said Fong. “Connecting with families and individuals who are excited to be trying something new and to find those healthy, peaceful connections within outdoor spaces too, it’s a pretty great role.”