VOICES: Summer is the season of outdoor third places

Five years ago, our collective lives were pretty routine until the pandemic blurred the lines between school, work and home. For many, working and learning from home is now easier than ever; however, it’s hard to strike a balance between these two spaces thanks to the infamous late-evening Teams message “ding” with which many have become familiar.

As someone who manages social media channels as part of my career, I’m confident we are more connected to our coworkers, friends and family than ever. But that can potentially disconnect us from sharing physical space, in-person experiences and creating core memories. This is where our critical need for “third places” comes into play.

As opposed to a primary place – which is likely your home – and a secondary place — which is likely your place of employment or school — a third place is a place of comfort where you can socialize, relax and connect with your community.

Places of worship, coffee shops, neighborhood bars – these can all be considered third places, but many may not consider nature as a go-to space for community connection. As an introvert who often has to “extrovert,” nature has always been my preferred space where I can go to disconnect and decompress from being around people. However, I admittedly leaned a little too much into my introversion during the pandemic.

America’s loneliness epidemic is well-documented and pre-dates the pandemic, leading the United States Surgeon General to issue warnings that feelings of disconnection can increase risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Understanding these negative outcomes and that being present in nature can often reduce the risk of these same diseases, I made an effort to connect with people in the places where I feel the most comfortable – our region’s parks.

Five Rivers MetroParks is home to 18 clean, safe parks, plus the 2nd Street Market, providing ample space and amenities for all ages and interests. Some of my favorite MetroParks spaces to share with others are:

RiverScape MetroPark: Affectionally referred to as Dayton’s front porch, RiverScape MetroPark really does have a little bit of everything, from large festivals to paddling features. There are so many free offerings at RiverScape MetroPark during the summer — including weekly fitness classes, summer concerts, festivals and new Tuesdays in the Park evenings — that it’s an inclusive, budget-friendly destination for everyone. metroparks.org/riverscape

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The 2nd Street Market: The Market opens its outdoor farmers market during the summer and fall growing seasons so there are even more vendors to visit. Plus, outdoor seating allows visitors to enjoy lunch with friends outside. It’s a great time saver to do weekly shopping and connect with folks over a meal to catch up all in the same space. The Market also hosts Sunset at the Market every other month, which allows guests to connect with culturally enriching community resources and enjoy a lowkey evening out. metroparks.org/localfood

Island MetroPark: Thanks to multiple shelters, playscapes and a sprayground, Island MetroPark is the perfect place to connect with family for celebrations or to simply take a walk or bike ride. This MetroPark is also home to community walks/runs and more special events that are for all ages. metroparks.org/island

Kid-friendly spaces: Kids are often part of the equation when connecting with friends and family, and many MetroParks incorporate spaces specifically for youth to enjoy. Nature play areas at Cox Arboretum, Sugarcreek, Hills & Dales, Possum Creek, Englewood and Wesleyan MetroParks offer kids the opportunity to play, climb, problem solve and imagine using natural materials. The Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark is a fun place for kids to splash, dig and explore the senses while learning about nature’s habitats. metroparks.org/outdoor-play

Garden parks: MetroParks’ staff often compare Wegerzyn Gardens, Aullwood Garden and Cox Arboretum MetroParks to an outdoor library, and that’s a great analogy. The garden parks offer a quiet space to learn about plants, trees and the wildlife that call them home. Because people often find the garden parks more relaxed and leisurely, there’s a chance to have deeper conversations with friends and appreciate the natural world. metroparks.org/gardening

Learn more about how to enjoy your Five Rivers MetroParks with your chosen community this summer by visiting metroparks.org.

Lauren Lemons is the Marketing and Public Engagement Specialist for Five Rivers MetroParks.

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