I moved to our fair city in the early 1960’s as a young boy and soon discovered the wonders of Wilderness Park in the Highland Oaks area of Arcadia. My older brother and I and our friends spent many summer days hiking through Wilderness Park and into the hills and streams beyond. It helped instill in me a lifelong love of the outdoors.
Many years later, I began to look at Wilderness Park quite differently due to an unpleasant experience. Approximately 15 years ago, I took my then young children to Wilderness Park on a weekend to shoot our annual Christmas card photograph. While there, a City of Arcadia employee approached me telling me we had to leave because I did not have a reservation. He hovered around us until we were done with the photographs and left the park. I had not realized that the park of my boyhood dreams had now become a place that required “reservations.” The idea seemed absurd since most people would never think to call ahead and make a “reservation” to visit a public park.
I have shared my feelings about this with Mayor Beck on several occasions. I am bringing this issue up now to the attention of the entire council, prompted by another experience I had this past weekend. Last Sunday, I was out for my usual jog. Sometimes the gates are left open so I can slip into Wilderness Park (without a reservation!) and run through it as part of my exercise routine. As I was getting close to the gates of the park, I came across a father and his young son on a small bicycle with training wheels as they were headed for Wilderness Park. We both reached the park about the same time and simultaneously saw the gates closed and locked. It was like witnessing a twisted Norman Rockwell painting: instead of a scene of a young boy enjoying riding his bicycle through a park, I saw the sad face of a child turned away from his own neighborhood park because it was for “reservations only.”
I realize the City of Arcadia has many pressing issues that are far more important than Wilderness Park, but this issue is worthy of your attention. I know of no other park in the City of Arcadia that is closed on weekends. After all, parks are most heavily used on Saturdays and Sundays when people are off work and kids are out of school. What is the justification for closing this treasure in Arcadia on weekends?
I know that in the City of San Marino, Lacey Park used to be open to all visitors seven days a week. Later San Marino changed the policy, not by requiring reservations, but charging non-residents an entrance fee. If Arcadia is concerned about an onslaught of non-residents overtaking our park, then they could similarly charge non-residents an entrance fee. I sincerely doubt however that Wilderness Park will soon be overrun by non-residents as it is tucked away in a quiet corner of the city and most people seeking a wilderness experience are headed up the road to Chantry Flats instead.
I urge the council to take up this matter and stop this madness. I am a taxpayer and should be entitled to visit my local park whenever I chose, without pre-booking. Please take up a vote to reopen Wilderness Park to all of our residents, seven days a week. Please stop locking out our children from riding their bikes, going for hikes or having a family picnic on a beautiful weekend. Put an end to a policy that prohibits our residents from spontaneously visiting this beautiful park and enjoying its splendors.
Thank you for your consideration of my views. I look forward to the City taking prompt action.
GREGORY R. VANNI