In our years as University students, I’m sure all of us have crossed through a city park at least a couple of times. We pass beneath the trees on the streets of Ann Arbor every day, whether it’s on a morning run, on our way to get groceries or during the 10-minute walk across the Diag to our next class. Yet I find that even when I’m trying to be interested, it’s sometimes easier to look at a screen or worry about my to-do list than it is to watch the leaves of the trees as they move against the sky. I want to be paying attention to the world around me, taking the moments of my walking as a time to unwind instead of fretting about upcoming commitments. And sometimes, taking a walk in the park is the best way to get that to happen.

The parks of Ann Arbor are a distinguishing characteristic, creating pockets of cool air and shade that border the built-up downtown. Parks closer to campus are probably the ones used the most by students, but my favorite is West Park — because I live on the same block, I walk through it almost every day. To my knowledge, this is one of the larger parks in the city, featuring stands of old oak trees, scattered wildflowers and two picturesque ponds. There are grills and tables for picnics, open grassy areas for a quick game of Frisbee or soccer and a fenced-in baseball field where dogs are allowed to run off-leash. With a playground, basketball court and community garden as well, the park is a place where residents of the city can come to enjoy the outdoors in whatever way is most attractive to them.

Time spent in the park is relaxing for me because it’s a part of my day when I’m walking and not working — and while I might have my to-do list in the back of my mind, I’m not actively trying to accomplish things from it in that moment. Sometimes walking in the shadows of the oak trees can lead to inspiration, but not always. When I don’t find insight in my morning strolls through the park, I’m still beginning to sort my priorities for the day, the next couple of days, and the week — and maybe laughing at the antics of whatever dog happens to be running around the baseball field at the moment.

There are more than 2,000 acres of parks in Ann Arbor, Mayor Christopher Taylor told me in an interview. The trees lining our streets extend the natural setting of the parks further into the city, creating a natural ambiance even among neighborhood buildings and roads. The trees lining the sides of the city’s streets are a poetic continuation of the greenness I find in morning walks through the park. This green overtone serves to make the entire city an attractive and pleasant place. If you’ve ever stopped to take in the view from a high window, you’ll see that trees dominate and the city itself recedes, turning into a mass of leaves and branches.

That kind of greenness isn’t found in every city, but it can be found here in Ann Arbor, in part because the city’s administration and residents are committed to paying for it. Because the city’s urban forest is so vast, funding for its care sometimes comes out of other places as well, such as the budget for stormwater control.

“I’m very devoted to the trees of the city,” Taylor said. “Funding them is something that I’m committed to making happen.” Those trees, along with city parks and other natural areas, such as the riverbanks of the Huron, make this a city with a changing face as the leaves turn brilliant colors and then fade with the seasons.

Now is a great time of year to get away from our screens and schoolwork and take a moment to really notice the nature surrounding and infusing our city, and to think about the ways we interact with it. Such areas are what make this city unique, and also what make it beautiful. So the next time you’re feeling stressed, can’t get your head around what you need to do or just feel listless and de-energized, try taking a walk in one of the city’s parks. I’d say that West Park is ideal, but any one will do. All of them are full of lovely trees and promise a welcome break from the crowded heart of downtown. Ann Arbor’s parks are there to be used and enjoyed.

Susan LaMoreaux can be reached at susanpl@umich.edu. 

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