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Neighbors of DuPage

The future of parks

Jun 08, 2016 09:39AM ● By Neighbors Magazines

We all expect that we will still have wonderful parks throughout the Westmont community. The park district will always provide recreational events and activities for people of all ages. However, there is one emerging trend that could have a significant impact on the role of park districts everywhere, including Westmont: preventive health care. Advancing technologies and a growing focus on preventive care could change the role of the park district in ways never dreamed of before. To get a hint of what the future holds, visit the fitness center at 424 Plaza Dr. Complete with a cardiovascular area, equipment that measures some vital signs and programs that go beyond muscle building, the park district has come a long way from a place for recreation and parks maintenance.

In 1959, the newly formed Westmont Park District purchased Kiwanis Park and LeBeck Park, Westmont’s first two parks. Today, the park district manages 14 parks covering 155 acres, providing programs and services for all ages. In 2009 the Westmont Park District celebrated 50 years of service to the residents of Westmont. Looking forward 50 years, there is no reason to believe that the role of the park district will be any less significant than it is today. In fact, fifty years from now the Westmont Park District will likely play an increasing role in our lives as an important part of our preventive health.

Imagine going for a walk in the park, and discussing the impact of your activity on your brain, with your doctor…while you are walking!

In recent years, a growing body of research has proven the psychological and health benefits of spending time in natural settings like forests and parks. When interviewed in October, 2015 for an article that appeared in the Washington Post, the famed Harvard biologist and conservationist E. O. Wilson explains parks and nature are really good for your brain. As we look in and around our communities, we are awakened by the open spaces. From biking routes, forest preserves, river walks to parks and recreation of all kinds; opportunities thrive that allow us to enjoy the great outdoors and in many cases, the great indoors as well. Personal recreation will play a much bigger role, as space gets tighter in both our work and personal living space.

Imagine visiting a health care practitioner about your diabetes at the park district.

According to Dr. Laura L. Payne of the University of Illinois people who take advantage of parks have lower body mass indexes, lower systolic blood pressures and fewer doctor visits than those who don’t. A 2005 California State Parks report confirms the importance of outdoor recreation citing a 2001 study revealing a positive correlation between the availability of a location’s recreational facilities and the amount of physical activity in which residents participate. (

Imagine “co-pay” programs at the Park District that are part of your health care plan.

In the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation, more than 30 recreation classes were made available to local health care facility patients through a $5 co-pay system.

The National Recreation and Parks Association ( has a significant amount of information related to the growing trend of health care providers as effective partners with parks and recreation agencies, especially at the municipal level. Dr. Laura Payne is also quoted on this site:

“With the oncoming crisis with obesity and related issues, health organizations—whether a cardiac rehabilitation center, assisted living center or social services agencies—realized early on that we have a place at the table…Parks and recreation is the place people go to work on their lifestyle issues… We have the parks, the recreation centers and the pools, so we realized how important this connection is.”

The primary purpose of a park district is to create a separate entity dedicated to the long term management, control, improvement, maintenance and acquisition of parks, boulevards and recreation facilities. What are the cornerstones of nearly every community, serving millions of people as the places anyone can go to be active, live healthier, connect with nature and gather together? Parks. In fact, parks and recreation make our lives and communities better, providing important physical activity as well, social connection opportunities for everyone from five to 95. This mission and need will continue to intensify into the future.

Yes, “our shoes may change, but we’re still going to run.” People will always have a need for recreation of all kinds. For this reason, much of what park districts are already doing will stay the same. However, in fifty years from now, with emerging technologies and a growing focus on preventive health, the Westmont Park District you enjoy today may play as vital a role in your health as the local hospital.

NOTE: The opinions expressed here about the future of park districts, and specifically the Westmont Park District, are the opinions of Neighbors Magazines. None of the content in this story has been shared, reviewed or approved by any representative of the Westmont Park District.