I thought urban parks were reserved for big cities—places like Washington, D.C., Boston, New York City, Chicago. With their dense populations, traffic, and fast paces, these places need them, I thought. It’s their only redeeming quality when one may otherwise feel trapped in a maze of concrete. I valued them, but I longed for my wild west.
This belief proved narrow-minded.
I went back to my hometown this summer in rural northern California, and realized that, in reality, it’s more that these city environments have facilitated my discovery and appreciation of urban parks. The truth is that I grew up surrounded by urban parks. The size of a city doesn’t denigrate the value of an urban design that takes a nod toward the wild side.
In Arcata, California, with a population of about 18,000 people, just blocks from downtown is a place where if you sit and listen, a wily grove of second-growth Redwoods will tell you their song.
I was working remotely when I went home last, and after hours in front of a computer screen, I felt restless. I felt anxious. I felt trapped. I needed fresh air. I needed to slow my thoughts. I needed all of the very things I often find I need back in my bustling east coast life. So, I did what I would’ve done in D.C. I looked for the town’s easy access to green, and I walked with reverie into the calm of Arcata’s Redwood Park and Community Forest, approximately 790 acres of woodland originally dedicated in 1955 as the first municipally owned forest in the State of California.
This forest is a place where ferns have the right of way. It’s a place where the trees explode into fireworks in the sky. It’s a place where after walking just a quarter-mile, breathing in just a minute of its cool shade, sighting just one burst of a wildflower’s color amongst a prevailing dark brown and forest green backdrop—you’ll understand that you’ve found God.
It’s a place where the young honor and grow from their elders, these fallen heroes of the forest floor. It’s rowdy adolescence tempered by profound respect.
It’s an environment that builds bridges instead of growing weary simply talking about building bridges. After building them, it invites you to walk across, and explore the other side. This place whispers, Never stop looking up and around. Always stay inquisitive. Always take time to catch the details.
You may find yourself happily lost in its meandering trails, heading deeper into its magic. You may decide, instead, to briefly walk its three-quarter-mile loop, soon exiting back out into the clearing, to the sun in the sky, to the nearby built structures for play and community. You may choose at this point to enter again, to walk it again, to continue the circular meditation of movement, the paying of respect, the constant process of seeing again with new eyes—the perfect balance for a wild, urban life.
You can find an Arcata Community Forest trails map HERE should you find yourself in the area with a call to wander.