Though the Tetons may tower to the west, the outdoors aren’t easily accessible for everyone. But a wellness garden, with features that make it easy to enjoy whether you’re in a wheelchair, on crutches, battling a bum back or pushing a stroller, would be.
Age Friendly Jackson Hole is leading the charge to create such a space in Wayne May Park, on three-quarters of an acre nestled against the existing community garden. Visual concepts for the plan were introduced as a sort of “kick-off” Monday night at an open house. Drawings will be on display at Teton County Library until April 26.
The group is an outgrowth of the Community Needs Assessment and began meeting under the umbrella of the Senior Center of Jackson Hole in 2014 to discuss Jackson’s age friendliness. It has placed walking poles to help people cross busy intersections, installed bus stop benches, mapped the location of accessible parking spaces, and brought attention to other unmet needs and gaps in services.
Its mission is to “ensure and enhance accessibility and inclusion of older adults and people of all ages and abilities in all aspects of life in Jackson Hole.”
“Inclusion and access, that’s what everything boils down to,” volunteer Jean Day said.
The idea of a wellness garden began years ago as a way to give older people and those with disabilities a nearby, safe and comfortable outdoor space. A growing body of literature has found numerous health benefits from time spent outdoors, including stress and depression reduction, improvement in cognitive abilities and attention span, blood pressure reduction and an increased sense of happiness.
The East Jackson neighborhood seemed ideal for an accessible outdoor space — Community Entry Services housing and Pioneer Homestead apartments for seniors and disabled citizens are nearby, as is the Senior Center of Jackson Hole and many young families.
“Why not a park that’s really accessible to all people in this community who are oftentimes invisible?” volunteer Sue Lurie said.
Her colleague agreed.
“It became obvious that May Park is where people of all ages and all abilities could have calm, quiet time,” Day said.
Selma and Wayne May sold the land for Wayne May Park to the town of Jackson in 1990. At the time, it was valued at $1.2 million but gifted at one-third its appraised market value. The first master plan for the park, which used to function as a place for growing hay and boarding horses, was developed in 2004.
Preliminary designs for the project include features like a butterfly and hummingbird garden, space for low-impact exercises, cozy seating features, safe walking paths and a new water feature.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for anybody of every age to observe nature,” Lurie said of the designs.
Age Friendly Jackson Hole is collaborating with the Teton Botanical Garden to encourage the use of locally sourced indigenous plants; its eventual goal is to make the garden a living seed bank of native plants and a citizen scientist research site with Wildflower Watch and The Nature Conservancy. Several organizations and businesses have their fingerprints on the project and have donated time to help design it, like Heidi Leeds of Leeds Landscape Architecture and Pat Ehrman with Y2 Consultants.
Teton County Parks and Recreation approved the project, which is still unscheduled and unfunded. Donations are being accepted to keep the project moving forward and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole is offering $100 a person for every donor who gives $20 or more before June 30. The total project cost, including some maintenance down the road, comes in at $500,000.
Once funds are raised, the park plans will need to go through a public input process with the town of Jackson. Anticipated first steps include street enhancements by the eventual garden like sidewalks, curbs and accessible parking lots. Moving a wellness garden from idea to reality is just one piece of the larger plan, volunteers say. It’s a shift toward thinking holistically about community health.
“It’s about raising awareness and increasing access for what the rest of us enjoy,” Lurie said. “We’re not all in our 20s and 30s.”