When you ask Clark County kids what they like best about playing outside you hear a variety of responses from ladybugs, snails and worms, to a quick dash down a playground slide for pure pleasure. Occasionally, imagination takes over and they speak of adventures with dinosaurs and turkeys and pretending they’re ninjas. Whether real or imagined, each response is offered with a smile. The Vancouver Rotary Foundation pledges to make those youthful smiles brighter.

Andy Kleiner explores Marshall Park

At the Dec. 3 Vancouver Rotary Festival of Trees Gala, Marshall Park was introduced as this year’s special project. The goal is to renovate it into a full-service park, complete with picnic / concert shelter and full landscaping. Since inception, the Vancouver Rotary Club’s foundation has pumped over $2.75 million back into the community. This year’s paddle-raise to benefit Marshall Park added $34,050 to that total.

Marshall Park lends itself well to the prospect of creating a central space, not only for kids to play, but for adults to burn off calories, as well. The nearby Luepke Center focuses on keeping seniors active, and Marshall Community Center houses an athletic facilities and a large indoor pool. Events from both venues will be able to spill seamlessly into the renovated park area.

Recent work at Marshall Park shows the bones of the vision. The refreshed greenbelt now sports a covered pavilion that will offer capacity to host concert crowds of up to 3,000 people, says Jane Kleiner, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department Manager. Families will also be able to book the shelter area for picnics or reunions, offering as many if not more amenities as Esther Short Park, and as a less expensive alternative.

Chelsea Anderson Playstation needs new equipment

The Nature Play area is a smaller piece of the plan. In recent years, outdated equipment had to be removed, and the area has been reduced to one piece of play apparatus for toddlers. Supporters of the park hope the fundraising will allow toddler-sized equipment to be added back to the playground. In addition, a challenge type course for the younger set is being created to encourage balance and development of body coordination.

Community leaders stand firmly behind the concept of investing in parks. Clark County Public Health Director, John Wiseman, is one. As a youth, he explored the outdoors in an earthy way, examining tadpoles, fish and frogs, and brought home bugs, including caterpillars to watch them turn into butterflies. His current concern is the lack of physical activity kids experience. He calls it the “biggest health issue faced by youth, today,” and identifies time spent in front of television screens and computer screens as leading obstacles to motivating kids to go outside.

“This is the first generation where we suspect that kids might not live as long as their parents,” says Wiseman.

Cheri Martin, Executive Director of the Clark County Parks Foundation, grew up in Clark County and reveled in an environment ripe for childhood discovery. She and her siblings enjoyed picnics at Leverich Park, built forts, and rolled down hills. She thinks parents should encourage the same hands-on, outdoors approach with their kids, but she advises parents not to expect children to explore and learn without them.

“We can’t just say, ‘go outside and play,’” says Martin. “We have to be with them. We have to show them. We have to demonstrate. We have to teach them.”

Florence Wager says Marshall Park is worth every penny

Florence Wager, Co-Chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, agrees that the lack of exercise in a child’s day is of paramount concern. She believes children will not develop into healthy individuals unless options are provided, and believes it teaches children leadership skills and how to collaborate.

“Play is really important business for them. You learn how to be a leader. You learn how to be a follower, ” says Florence Wager. “We need to create opportunities for kids to be active.”

Laurie Cornelius, Director of Child and Family Services at Clark College, says when play is disregarded an important part of an individual’s inner development is missed. “We’re so focused on skill development, but we’re not including play, and play is where passion comes,” says Cornelius. She challenges parents to remember their own childhood playtimes. “Where did we play and what did we value?” Cornelius asks, and offers a compelling answer, “Almost always it goes to the outdoors.”

The positive health benefits of playing outside cannot be overlooked. Devon Ebbing, a pediatrician at the Vancouver Clinic, sees Marshall Park as a “tremendous investment in our community’s health,” and encourages the community to get behind the fundraising as a way to decrease future healthcare costs.

“Exposure to nature has been associated with the decrease in overall stress,” says Devon Ebbing, and “There’s some emerging data that children who are exposed to more outdoor play have better vision.”

Florence Wager stands under a large, tri-color umbrella and embraces the beautiful Northwest and the opportunity to make it better. “I think this is one of the best ideas that has ever come along. It’s worth every single penny that anyone can put into it.”

Video created through a sponsorship with the Vancouver Rotary Foundation
Video captured by Miles Burnett and Jordan Thompson
Video edited by Miles Burnett and Jordan Thompson
Original music created by Hamilton Boyce

If you want to go:
Marshall Community Park
1015 E. McLoughlin
Vancouver WA 98663

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For more information:

Parks Foundation of Clark County
Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation
PO Box 1995
Vancouver, WA 98668-1995
Luepke Senior Center: 360-487-7050
Marshall Community Center: 360-487-