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Jacksonville is the "City of Parks"

Richard G. Skinner III, a recent discussion leader for TEDxJacksonville, writes about embracing, promoting and expanding Jacksonville as the "City of Parks".

Published May 10, 2014 in Opinion      8 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Richard G. Skinner III was a discussion leader at TEDxJacksonville's recent salon at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. The evening's theme was the environment. After watching three pre-recorded TED talks those attending broke into three groups that focused on Jacksonville's environmental/conservation needs. Richard led the discussion on embracing, promoting and growing Jacksonville as the "City of Parks". In this op-ed he expands on the discussion that took place during the TEDxJacksonville event.

Jacksonville – “City of Parks” is not the first image that comes to mind when describing Jacksonville’s great assets, but it should be.  With over 83,000 acres of parks and preserves that are comprised of National Parks, State Parks and city Preservation Parks, Jacksonville can rightfully claim to have the largest urban park system in the United States. We refer to this as our Preservation Park system.  Our Preservation Parks are those natural significant lands within the Duval County border that have been acquired to protect and preserve our natural, cultural, or historic settings in perpetuity.  Many of these parks lie along the St. Johns River or connect to an extensive estuarine preserve.


Image courtesy of www.­TimucuanTrailPar­ksFoundation.­org

While other metropolitan cities are built out beyond the limits of what is reasonable to sustain over the long run, Jacksonville is far ahead of that problem by having set aside these natural lands.  Development usually trends toward the “beautiful places” but as a result often segregates them from the public.  Once lost they can never be fully recovered.  That is only part of the equation.  So much of our quality of life is directly connected to how we take care of our natural environment.  Clean air and water as one example are our most precious resources.  These preserves and parks provide natural protections by filtering the water through salt marshes, serving as clean water recharge areas, providing capacity for storm surge, and cleaning our air through expansive tree canopies.  Best of all, these places have been preserved for everyone to enjoy.


Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Image courtesy of www.­TimucuanTrailPar­ksFoundation.­org

Here is an interesting fun fact:  in the Business Journal’s 2013 top 25 tourist attractions in the Jacksonville area our Preservation Parks are ranked 1 (Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve – including Ft. Caroline and Kingsley Plantation) and  2 (Talbot Island State Parks).  Do you know how many cities can make the claim that they have national and state parks within the city limits?  More importantly, all of these parks are within a 30 minute drive from downtown Jacksonville.  Most of the city Preservation Parks abut other significant regional or state parks, or significant tracts of potential greenlands that one day could be connected.

Jacksonville can and should be thought of as a “City of Parks”.  When the leadership begins to recognize the inherent value of our extensive Park system as integral to our quality of life, then this message will begin to resonate.  Think of the great cities of Florida and ask yourself what makes us different.  I would say it is the natural resources available to everyone.  We can already make the claim that we have the largest park system within the city limits in the country.  We can already say that our top 2 tourist attractions (visits per year) are within those parks.  We are the only city in Florida that has the potential to create a connected ring of parks around the entire city.  In addition, these parks offer a great variety of active experiences:  hiking, kayaking, fishing, boating, on and off-road bicycling, camping, horseback riding, and birding to name a few.  The cultural and historical experiences are also extensive, from Kingsley Plantation and early plantation farming,  Ft. Caroline and the Huegenots to Camp Milton and the Civil War.  Our parks are full of local stories, legend, archaeology and history.


Cedar Point Park. Image courtesy of www.­TimucuanTrailPar­ksFoundation.­org

The significance and value of our parks needs to be at the forefront of every elected official and city leader.  For too long our Parks have taken a back seat in the discussion about quality of life.  Funding for parks has got to be a priority if we are to be a great city.  

The Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation is the only non-profit that serves this collection of National, State, and City Preservation Parks.  In fact it is the only organization of its kind in the country that serves all three entities under one “friends” organization.  Go to our website (TimucuanTrailParksFoundation.org) and find out what is going on in the Preservation Parks and how you can get involved.  Become a member and let your voice be heard.

I would ask do we want to be the “City of Parks”?  It is up to all of us to make that happen.

Op-ed by:



Richard G. Skinner III
President, Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation

Richard grew up in Jacksonville as part of a family that settled in the area in the late 1800’s. Experiencing the natural land in north Florida was as much a part of his early life as formal education. He graduated from Emory University and Boston Architectural College and received the Scholastic Award, Certificate of Merit. He has practiced architecture with his firm, Richard Skinner & Associates since 1990.  His firm has received numerous awards for craftsmanship and design. Richard has received the John Dyal award for civic involvement from the American Institute of Architects, Jacksonville Chapter.

Richard has served on the Mayor’s Parks Commission Task Force under Mayor John Peyton in 2006, and Chaired the JEDC Downtown Jacksonville Pedestrian and Open spaces task force in 2007. Richard participated in the Historic Designation of Riverside and Avondale and co-chaired the neighborhood development of Boone Park. Richard has served on the Boards of Greenscape of Jacksonville, Hope Haven Children and Family Clinic, The Trust for Public Land, and currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the Carpenter Library at UNF.












8 Comments

Noone

May 10, 2014, 05:40:14 AM
WOW!
Guiliford wasn't the only one that said that at One Spark and Welcome to Actionville.
Let's connect our Parks but it won't happen from Downtown in our new CRA/DIA super duper restricted (Food Truck, Kayak) zone from the Fuller Warren Bridge to the Mathews bridge on our St. Johns River our American Heritage River a FEDERAL Initiative.
"City of Parks"
"City of Winners and Losers"
Visit Jacksonville!

thelakelander

May 10, 2014, 08:14:20 AM
Right now, we have the "largest" park system in the country because we're consolidated with Duval County, making us the largest city by land area in the continental US. If we really want to become a city of parks (like many view Minneapolis today), we're going to have to address, dramatically enhance and expand the urban park system inside of the I-295 beltway.

simms3

May 10, 2014, 02:07:46 PM
Jacksonville: City of Parks?  I'm not seeing it.

Also, why don't the Skinners put their money where their mouth is and create an endowment to create and maintain a nice city park?  That's what rich people in other cities do, and why almost every major city has far superior parks than Jax.  Preservation land?  Ok, who cares.  Timucuan Preserve is nice, but why preserve pine forest on the west side?  Developers aren't itching to build on it any time soon and it's pine forest.  I'm so cynical when it comes to Jacksonville's parks because people and city officials like to brag about absolute crap when it comes to the parks and nobody is really doing anything about it.

The original riverwalk was largely funded by a brick sale, so private dollars.  Why does anyone think it's somehow different going forward when it comes to nice parks?  Piedmont Park in Atlanta has something like a $100+M endowment, or at least that's what's been privately invested to improve it over the past ~5-7 years.

IrvAdams

May 10, 2014, 02:23:01 PM
The Timucuan Preserve area is great, has miles of trails for walking or trail biking, and great views along a very high bluff on the river. It can be accessed by boat or kayak also. There are huge, old shell mounds from the original Indian tribes who harvested fresh oysters from the river over 500 years ago. This preserve is on both sides of the river, but on the south side it is off Mt. Pleasant Road and is known as the Theodore Roosevelt Area. It's a must see, and is not advertised much locally.

Scrub Palmetto

May 10, 2014, 05:07:47 PM
Preservation land?  Ok, who cares.  Timucuan Preserve is nice, but why preserve pine forest on the west side?

I care. And that land on the Westside is not just a single ecosystem.

I absolutely love spending time in Jenning State Forest. It is an eden of escape that I can't imagine the Westside without. Both it and Cary State Forest have some excellent trails, a wide variety of ecosystems, and Jennings has some lovely hills and ravines. And this isn't the opinion of an untraveled yokel. I've hiked in just about every region of the country, and in Canada.

I know and respect the value of Florida's natural environments very well, something instilled in me by my family. I'm at least a 7th generation Floridian, and the first to be born and raised in the city. 3 previous generations were still living by the time I was an adult, and I was close to all of them. I feel very lucky to have been able to grow up in Jax while still spending a great deal of time in the state's rural and natural environments. The relationship between these and the urban environment is something I'm passionate about.

Florida's ecosystems are absolutely fascinating. They're rich and varied like few other places in the country, with dramatic changes from one to the other in short distances, responding to subtle variations in elevation, soil, water, and drainage conditions. And this applies as much far inland as it does along the coast. Much of the Westside was deforested in the past and turned into pine plantations, but there is much more to its natural state than that -- much of which still exists and is worth preserving.

Ocklawaha

May 11, 2014, 02:44:56 PM
Jacksonville: City of Parks?  I'm not seeing it.

Also, why don't the Skinners put their money where their mouth is and create an endowment to create and maintain a nice city park?  That's what rich people in other cities do, and why almost every major city has far superior parks than Jax.  Preservation land?  Ok, who cares.  Timucuan Preserve is nice, but why preserve pine forest on the west side?  Developers aren't itching to build on it any time soon and it's pine forest.  I'm so cynical when it comes to Jacksonville's parks because people and city officials like to brag about absolute crap when it comes to the parks and nobody is really doing anything about it.















"Ok, who cares.  Timucuan Preserve is nice, but why preserve pine forest on the west side?"

This says volumes about your frequent commentaries on MJ, granted Jennings and Cary are not Kings Canyon, Yosemite or Yellowstone, but some of us would argue while its only 27,408 acres, its just as grand, beautiful and alluring as any of those. City of Parks holds real promise provided we furnish them and maintain them to top notch standards, something we've admittedly failed to do with our public spaces and infrastructure.

I'm with you Scrub Palmetto, Not a untraveled yokel, I've traveled and worked from Patagonia to Canada and from Atlantic to Pacific... guess what? I'm here!

mbwright

May 12, 2014, 09:29:27 AM
The more, and larger areas that are preserved, the better.  You can't have small areas, and have a successful environment.

Bativac

May 12, 2014, 11:37:39 AM
I do hear people complain a lot about Jacksonville's parks but it's one of the few parts of this city I genuinely enjoy. I've lived here almost my entire life and there are still parks I haven't visited (and parts of parks I have visited that I haven't explored).

No, they are not all well-landscaped... or even maintained beyond an occasional mowing. But there are lots of fantastic wide-open green spaces perfect for any kind of outdoor activity you can think of, and a variety of terrain and ecosystems.

I'm confused by Simms's comment of: "developers aren't itching to build on it anytime soon" regarding preserved land. So should we only act to preserve green space when development is encroaching?
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