This summer I’ve been taking long bicycle rides every day. My route varies, but I make it a point to always go through Chad Erickson Park. For two different reasons, the park renews my faith in humanity, and right now I look forward to (maybe need) a recurrent dose of faith.

The first reason for this sense of optimism is the story of the park’s origin. The Chad Erickson of Chad Erickson Park was a boy who suffered brain damage during heart surgery in 1989. I do not know the details, but his parents received a cash settlement. Not willing to benefit financially from their son’s misfortune, the parents used the money to convert an inaccessible wet spot behind a long-term care facility into a neighborhood gem. The area was reconfigured into marshlands and a large pond. Trails, boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, and gazebos were built around the pond. Chad Erickson Park is tucked away in a far southside neighborhood, and I am sure half of the city’s residents don’t even know it exists. 

Secondly, and more significantly, I get to watch children fishing. As I approach the park, I often ride past kids walking toward the pond with poles in their hands. Once in the park, other kids are standing on bridges with lines in the water. Sometimes very young children fish with their parents or grandparents, but mostly it is just kids fishing with other kids. I have been told the pond is stocked with trout, but I’ve only seen young fishermen and fisherwomen pull out bluegills and bullheads. This is as it should be; bluegills and bullheads are the fish of childhood. 

Those familiar with Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods know of his lament that children no longer are allowed to have unsupervised free time in the natural world. He fears that today’s kids are so overprotected and so overscheduled that they no longer get to explore ponds and woods and creeks on their own. Chad Erickson Park lets me know that Louv’s nature deficit disorder (his term, not mine) has yet to reach epidemic proportions in my town.