To the City of San Jose:
I know that this is a big city, and I know that you need more space for housing and roads. I don’t know if closing Shady Oaks Park has yet crossed your mind, but I am begging you: don’t do it. This park, tiny and insignificant as it is, means a lot to the residents of Santa Teresa neighborhood.
You don’t really maintain the park that well. The playground is broken; half of the place is covered in graffiti. But you have to realize that this neglected little park is the one bit of nature that any kid in this neighborhood has. There’s something magical in being allowed to ride your bike alone to the park for the first time, past busy streets and cracked sidewalks, through the bad part of suburbia to a little garden of Eden.
At first, every kid rushes to the playground. This, you’ve already changed. Where there once was a hot metal deathtrap with sand beneath, now stands a plastic play structure with a recycled rubber floor. To be honest, I liked the metal playground, or I might just be bitter that you closed the park for a full summer to rebuild it. Any kid now is going to appreciate not being burned by the metal slide. That is, if you keep this park open for the kids to play on this plastic structure for hours.
The kid enjoying this playground gets tired, and goes to the one drinking fountain in the park for some water. This one fountain is always broken, but the little water it does put out is cold and sweet. I do have to let you know that the location of the fountain is very odd. It’s right in the middle of a large span of concrete, and the local skateboarding kids love to glide around the obstacle course of cracks.
So this kid runs away from the skateboarders, onto the large field of grass. No one really uses this field, it’s overgrown with weeds and there are bees hidden in patches of clover. This just means that this kid is free to run around, until her little legs are tired, and then collapse in the sweet smelling grass and just lie there for a moment, soaking in the California sun. You can’t think of taking this away.
The kid might get burned by the sun, and run over to the oaks of Shady Oaks Park—a small grove that has so much shade it can get chilly in the middle of summer. There are picnic benches and barbecue pits here. Families have picnics here quite often, as it’s a nice little area that’s close to home.
The kid leaves the comfort of the shade and goes to the run-down exercise course. This, you really could get rid of it. Kids swarm over it with absolutely no supervision, and they can get seriously hurt here. I know it was once intended for adults to improve their balance and strength, but a kid just sees an arrangement of bars to hang off of and poles to balance on. In the sixteen years I spent going to this park, I never saw anyone actually exercise on the exercise course. I did, however, see two broken bones and countless scraped knees from my friends falling off of the three-foot high balance bar. Change this part, if you must change something, but this ruin from the 80s should not mean you sacrifice the whole park.
A little ways away from the exercise course is the absolute gem of the park, the one thing that no kid could find somewhere else: the bouncy tree. That’s what my friends and I called it. Just off the trail that surrounds the park is a tree that grew sideways, so the trunk is perpendicular to the ground. It’s strong enough to hold the weight of four or five kids, and when these kids climb on, the tree will literally bounce. It’s already an amazing thing for a kid to see a tree that grows sideways, and this one is better in that it’s a ride, too! This tree is the hidden treasure of Shady Oaks Park, and the thing that could not be replaced if you tear the park down.
This park is also one of the entrances to the Coyote Creek bike trail. I know you wouldn’t tear down this trail; it’s one of the major features of San Jose. What kid doesn’t love spending all day riding to Morgan Hill, passing through various parks and the model plane airport? But this entrance from this park is particularly important. It’s close to two of the major landmarks on the trail: the five-foot deep dip in the trail that’s so fun to ride down, and the short trail down to the creek. A kid can walk down to Coyote Creek and wade through the cold water, experiencing the beauty of nature while being only five minutes from home. I’m not sure if this is still there, but a bit away from the shore once had bushes of wild blackberries hanging over the water. It was untouched by most animals, so a little kid’s hands could reach through the thorny bramble and collect a sweet edible prize.
And all right, so there are wild animals along that trail. Cougars live in the mountains. I know that seems like a bad thing, like the cougars will attack innocent young children. But really, you have to realize that to the kids in the area, wild animals like that are awesome. It’s a way to get close to the dangerous part of nature while still having the option to run back to the safety of home. So instead of expanding suburbia to get rid of these animals, you should let them stay. Children don’t need to grow up in perfect sterile environments, what they need is to experience the world. Try teaching them how to deal with cougars instead—a few simple placards along the trail would be more than what they have now.
So please, San Jose, do not tear down this park. It is worth far more to the residents than new houses would be. I know this is a big city and a tiny park is often overlooked in the big picture, but it is important. It needs to be preserved.
After all, what good would more houses be if there were no park for the kids to play in?