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Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department officials are inviting the public to participate in planning the future of local parks. This is an opportunity you absolutely do not want to ignore.

The meetings are scheduled this Wednesday and Thursday. The two on Wednesday are 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnell St., and 6-7:30 p.m. at the Elwin Mussell Community Center, 510 E. Park Ave. Thursday’s meetings are 9-10:30 a.m. at the Elwin Mussell Community Center, 510 E. Park Ave., and 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnell St.

It might be best to make a reservation by calling 925-0951, ext. 2260. That’s not required, because drop-ins are welcome, but if the turnout is equal to the need, chairs will fill up quickly. And here’s why:

There are more than two dozen public parks in the Santa Maria Valley, and per the city’s mission statement, these facilities are designed, or should be designed to enrich the lives of all residents by providing high-quality recreation programs and services. The city also is duty-bound to provide safe and well-maintained public places.

The Recreation and Parks Department operates 234 acres of developed parkland in 27 neighborhood and community parks, part of the 1,774-acre Los Flores Ranch Park property, the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, the Hagerman Softball Complex, Paul Nelson Aquatics Center, Elwin Mussell Senior Center, Veterans Memorial Center and other community centers.

If you have read this far, there’s an excellent chance you have visited one or more of those parks, and for the most part enjoyed every minute of the experience. But enjoyment is not guaranteed, and that’s what city officials want to hear about, how to make what we have even better, safer and more fun to use.

Public parks are among the most important components of an attractive and healthy urban environment, and vitally essential to a city’s overall appeal.

Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education and community togetherness. Any discussion about a community’s overall desirability will, of necessity, include the quality of its parks network.

Parks are places where people can enhance their quality of life and health. Parks encourage movement, activity and sports competition. Parks are also critical to workforce development, and help make cities more sustainable, livable and vibrant.

In fact, we can’t imagine living in a community without parks, which are the epicenter of physical activity and social interaction. And we are fairly confident in saying that when a business owner looks at communities into which they would consider moving their operations, those owners look closely at all the non-work activities made available to residents. Parks sit at the top of such lists.

Parks are especially important these days, when America is suffering through a period when most young people remain indoors doing sedentary things, and adults’ waistlines are expanding, dangerously.

These are facts, ideas and concepts local residents need to consider in the context of this week’s public meetings. The level of public interest shown in such meetings is how city officials make their budget requests, and how our elected leaders make decisions about priorities for spending your tax dollars.

Maybe we went a little overboard selling the importance of parks, but actually we didn’t — which is why if you have the time and inclination, call the city and reserve your seat at one of the four public meetings. Our city’s future depends on it.

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