Finding gratefulness in our outdoor options

It’s easy to find reasons to complain about the government these days. Well, it never has been all that difficult, but in the past year, complaining has become especially fashionable.

But there are some things that have turned out right. I was thinking about this last week as my wife and I took a walk at Stillwater Prairie Reserve.

Back in the early 1970s if we wanted to take a hike in a park we had to go to Montgomery County. There were no Miami County parks. In fact, I recall hearing about the plans for a county park district for the first time in a social studies class taught by Steve Boone at Troy High School. Some of us worked on the first county park tax levy drive back when I was in high school.

Now here we are not quite 50 years later and Miami County’s park system really is impressive.

We’re starting out at a little bit of a disadvantage here. We don’t have any oceans. We don’t have any mountains – we hardly even have any significant hills. We don’t even have a real lake, mostly just gravel pits and ponds.

There are a couple of rivers, but no one is ever going to confuse the Miami or the Stillwater with the Mississippi or the Nile.

Nonetheless, the county parks offer a surprising variety of options, and there are a lot of parks from which to choose.

We were talking about this as we hiked and stopped to look at the new suspension bridge being built over the Stillwater River that connects Stillwater Prairie with Maple Ridge Reserve. For those of you who have moved to the county in the last few decades or who are younger than, say, 50 years old, this might not seem like a big deal. But for us old-timers, it’s kind of amazing.

There are 15 different county parks totaling more than 2,000 acres. The district estimates that more than 1,150,000 people visited the parks in 2020. I suspect most of those visits are by local people who go to the parks many times. The winter light display at Lost Creek Reserve attracted more than 38,500 visitors. For a county that had zero parks a generation ago, that’s quite a record.

In fact, outdoor opportunities in general have made great strides here in the past 50 years. Brukner Nature Center opened in 1974. Duke Park and Kyle Park did not exist back then, either. There were no bike paths. You just hit the road and took your chances.

“Man,” my wife said as we hiked at Stillwater, “I sure wish these places would have been here when we were young. What did we do?”

Well, we drove to Englewood or Taylorsville or Yellow Springs or hiked along the levee in town. When Brukner opened in 1974 (the year we graduated from high school), it was a big deal. Trails where you could hike, close to home! What an idea!

I never would have guessed there were so many cool places right here in Miami County. Now I think we kind of take them for granted.

It’s been a tough year but spring is here, the sun is shining, and here in Miami County we have a lot of options when it comes to getting out and appreciating the world around us, whether it be taking a hike, riding along the bike trails or taking part in one of the many programs offered at various parks. Maybe if the past year of uncertainty has taught us anything, it has taught us to appreciate the time we can spend outside in nature. If that is the case for you as it is for me, it might be a good idea to be grateful for all the options we have so close at hand. It wasn’t always that way.