Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.
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The proposed cut of the Prairie Park Nature Center is short-sighted. While its most apparent use may seem out alignment with the current goals and strategic plan for the city, its lasting effects and outreach are so positive, the decision should be reconsidered.
There are so few places in Lawrence that are free for families to take young kids. As a single mom of a kid who loves animals, this facility and its staff were invaluable to his development and sense of self and others. We struggled financially for housing and other needs. However, knowing that we could spend an hour or two whenever we could there was something I could look forward to.
When my parents came to visit, the one place my son wanted to show my dad was the Prairie Park Nature Center. We held birthday parties there. My son also attended the outreach classes they would hold after school at his elementary school, Cordley. Even though he could probably give the lessons, as he knew the material so well, he still enjoyed it. In fact, having a mastery of the information gave him a sense of pride and accomplishment. The Prairie Park staff was adept at leading the lessons and often remarked that they liked having him participate as they knew he would challenge them to include more advanced information. (They told me once that because of my son’s interest in otters, they began to include info about them. Even though otters are not common Kansas animals now, historically they are/were.)
The staff was also extremely sensitive and helpful in modifying information and curriculum and sometimes the space in consideration of cultural needs regarding certain animals that are significant culturally to different Native American tribes’ beliefs. I experienced this sensitivity as both a parent and as the Coordinator for Native American Students Services for the public schools.
This issue is beyond our family’s specific experience with the facility, however. The issue is what is important to us? To our community? Is it important to only have facilities that make money or break even? Or, do we see our municipality as an entity that offers services? As in serving the community. Serving, in the sense of giving. Providing without the expectation of monetary or material gain. Because the gains may not be as quantifiable as other items in the budget, it does not mean the gains are not there.
I believe the positive gains are many and worthy of reconsideration.
Jennifer Attocknie (she/her), Lawrence resident, Comanche, Citizen Band Potowatomi, Creek