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‘It’s like having a big front yard’

Aden Bavrina cruised on his bike Wednesday afternoon through Gregory Park in Bra1 / 4
Barb Johnson’s 1-year-old granddaughter Taryn, who recently learned to walk, bur2 / 4
Steve Olson set up to hit a return forehand during a pick-up game of tennis Wedn3 / 4
Randy Christensen gave his black lab Annie a scratch on the head Wednesday after4 / 4

To say Brainerd parks are simply green space is doing them a disservice. 

Sure, the city’s 12 parks offer a scenic break to blocks of houses, businesses and the grid of streets within the city, but they’re so much more — a place for children to run, for adults to exercise, families to picnic or for anyone wanting to stretch out on a plot of green grass for some peace and quiet. 

With the spate of beautiful spring weather earlier this week, area city parks got a workout. 

Gregory Park provided samples of just how many different ways parks are used, drawing tennis players, basketball players, kids climbing on playground equipment, families enjoying lunch on a picnic table, people reading books in the grass, even a man playing guitar. 

On Wednesday, Randy Christensen, who lives a block away, was walking his young black lab Annie through the park. Christensen said he walks Annie in the park twice a day. 

“She needs exercise,” Christensen said. “I walk her here all year around, summer and winter. I really appreciate having something so close, otherwise I’d have to drive her outside of town to take her on walks.”

Their routine is one mile in the morning, two miles in the afternoon. His only issue with the park, he said, was that sometimes people don’t pick up after themselves. 

Barb Johnson, who also lives near Gregory Park, on Wednesday was letting her grandchildren, 1-year-old twins Quinn and Taryn, burn off some steam by running through the grass. She watches her grandchildren three times a week and said the park will be a mainstay this summer. 

“It’s great. It’s like having a big front yard,” Johnson said of the park. “It’s so hard to watch them (outside at home) but if I put them out here they can’t get to a street too quickly. I can catch up with them.”

Playing with her grandchildren is just one perk of being close to a city park, Johnson said. She also attends events at the park, such as concerts, and likes to people-watch there.

“There’s always people over here doing something,” Johnson said.

Not everyone visiting the park Wednesday was local. 

Steve Olson, formerly of Brainerd, lives in Nevis, works in Wadena and every Wednesday and Saturday travels to Gregory Park to meet eight to 12 others for pickup games of tennis. 

It also helps, he said, that several family members still live in Brainerd, including his parents, Bob and Cathy Olson, who live next to the park.

“So it’s a two-for-one,” Olson said of his purposes for visiting Brainerd. 

Olson said most of the people he plays tennis with used to play at Gregory Park years ago, when it was the only place in town to play tennis. 

“It’s kind of like coming home,” Olson said. “The park is such a great setting.”

Olson arrived at the tennis courts early because he had yet to play this year. He was soon joined by Brainerd resident Dan Egan, and they returned shots to warm up. 

Those in the group have different levels of skill sets, Olson said, and no one takes it too seriously. 

“We have a lot of laughs, I tell ya,” Egan said. 

“That’s why we really come here, for the trash talk,” Olson added.

Krystal Olson and Lisa Kraft sat on the grass of Gregory Park on Wednesday and watched their children, Aden and Kylie, respectively, ride their bikes. The moms said they are at the park daily, whether its for five minutes or an hour. 

“We’re here all the time,” Olson said. “We don’t have a back yard. I live in an apartment building, so it’s perfect that it’s here.”

Added Kraft: “It’s beautiful.”

Aden said he likes to ride bike; Kylie likes the swings. Both said they like getting big “underdogs” while on the swings. Olson said the hardest part about coming to the park is keeping the kids from trying to get into the historic fountain at the parks entrance at North Sixth and Juniper streets. 

“We love this park,” Olson said. 

Maintaining the city parks is a top priority for the Parks and Recreation Department, Interim Park Director Tony Sailer said. He said crews never stop mowing during the summer and, on a daily basis, garbage is picked up and restrooms are cleaned at the parks. 

“Everybody looks at the activities we (the parks and recreation department) run, but on the other hand, our parks are heavily used,” Sailer said. “The nice thing is, they’re free. It’s your tax dollars at work. That’s one of the nice things in life. People love the parks, especially on a nice day like (Wednesday).”

In the works for Gregory Park, Sailer said, is rehabilitating the center court at Gregory Park, where the sidewalks converge. Included in the work will be landscaping, he said. 

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at matt.erickson@brainerd or 855-5857.