Public parks see rise in popularity throughout last year

While last year saw many different restrictions and closures happen over the course of a lockdown, there was one type of area that saw an increase in traffic: public parks.

These parks, such as Waterloo Park, found not too far from Laurier, were popular destinations last year for those in the area. 

It’s difficult to say how much of this was because of their safe, open nature during the COVID-19 lockdown, and how much of it was because of changes in the Waterloo region.

Andrea Bazler, a manager in parkland, capital projects and stewardship for Waterloo, notes that there are other factors that could lead to an increase in attendance. 

These include a growing population in Uptown Waterloo and construction that might concentrate people in certain areas of parks.

“To quantify it is hard,” Bazler said. “Can you separate [the lockdown] from all of the other factors affecting life?”

Visiting parks can provide a variety of physical and mental health benefits. These benefits may have been appreciated more at a time when many indoor activities, such as gyms, were closed during the lockdown last summer.

“I think maybe people are realizing the connection between parks and how much better they feel afterwards,” Sean Doherty, a Laurier professor in the department of geography and environmental studies said.

Besides the fitness benefits of walking around or participating in sports, there are also wellness benefits unique to the natural environment of public parks.

“At a minimum you’re going to have to walk somewhere, at a maximum you might get engaged in activities in the park […] but also, you’re going to absorb nature,” Doherty said.

“You’re going to absorb some of those relaxation effects that natural areas have on you, […] we know through really good evidence that natural areas have this effect on our well-being.”

Doherty, who had his third-year students conduct research projects in Waterloo Park last year, noted that they were an ideal place for students to gather under safe, socially-distant conditions. 

As the Ontario government recently announced new restrictions, including on gyms and social gatherings, to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID, parks may remain a popular destination even through the winter season.

Students who wish to volunteer for any of the upcoming events at Waterloo Park may visit the volunteering page on waterloo.ca. This includes helping to set up the annual Winterloo festival taking place in the park on January 29. 

Students can also learn more about upcoming events on the Waterloo Park page of waterloo.ca.

Bazler encourages those who are interested to consider volunteering, as well as to sign up for the Waterloo Neighbourhoods newsletter to stay up-to-date about various events and activities in the City.

“When you get involved with your community, in terms of volunteering, and with your environment, then you start to care more about it,” she said.

The city of Waterloo has planned changes to Waterloo Park in the future, including upgrading the baseball diamonds and improving the natural environment around Silver Lake. Students can find more information about upcoming projects on the Engage Waterloo website, where they can also give the city feedback on proposals regarding the region’s parks.

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