Memorable Contributions

As park managers, we are in an extraordinary position to help people cope with grief. That may seem like an odd statement since we are in the business of helping people enjoy their leisure time, but park professionals not only help create a connection with the outdoors during good times; as soon as people experience a loss, they seek us out for comfort. After 9/11 there was a huge surge in the usage of the woodland trails, lakes and prairies of our parks for this very reason.

A Dual Purpose

For years parks have added memorial benches, drinking fountains, fireplaces and various other items, all of which are beneficial. They help build infrastructure, and soothe pain with remembrance because a loved one’s name is memorialized in a public place and will not be forgotten.

Particularly this year, as we all face budget cuts, it is time to take memorials to the next level. People are always looking for meaningful ways to remember their loved ones. Naming gardens, play areas and overlooks in loving memory serves two purposes:

1. Getting something funded that is low on the funding project list

2. Helping to memorialize a person’s loved one.

Families may not have the funding for big projects, but pooling money from extended loved ones can add up to a substantial sum.

Wish List Come True

Two opportunities have greatly enhanced our city’s nature center. Several years ago, we were lamenting how badly the front entrance was aging. Timbers were rotting, and the wooden gate was worn from so many hands opening it for more than 30 years. The capital improvement dollars had dried up long ago. Then a new neighbor walked in the door one day with something on his mind. He wanted to memorialize his wife, who had recently lost her battle with cancer. He wanted to know if we had any project that he could devote himself and his resources to funding as a fitting honor to his beloved wife. I walked him outside and showed him the center’s rotting infrastructure. A twinkle appeared in his eye as he thanked me for listening to his request.

The next day he appeared with a landscape architect, and we began to dream. Within a few short weeks we had a proposal, and the funding came flowing in. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the memorial garden was dedicated on the anniversary of her death.

Our nature center’s 2009 wish list included a natural play area. We needed money for a fence, a sign and a yet-to-be-designed structure. We were excited to receive a matching grant. The word “matching” is a catch phrase that leaves us rolling our eyes, wondering how we were going to come up with enough funds to match the ones that have been offered. A family recently designated us as the recipient of its memorial fund. It was a perfect match. The family was thrilled. Another project is underway in a win-win situation. What was the icing on the cake? I knew the family very well. It will be a personal privilege to help soothe their grief by building this play area.

In this economy, when all other sources of funds are sadly lacking, this approach can mean the difference between improving parks and leaving them stagnant. It is always sad when someone dear is lost, but it is an uplifting feeling to honor that person with a beautiful garden, a new overlook or whatever item is next on your park’s wish list.

When I went to school, I never thought I would end up supporting people in their moments of grief, but I am honored to add it to my resume.

Dr. Karen I. Shragg is Director of the Wood Lake Nature Center for the City of Richfield, Minn. She can be reached via e-mail at