Parks bursting as winter melts into spring

Walking dogs in Riverview Park, Hannibal, Mo.

As a born and bred Hannibalian, Mary Lynne Richards is Riverview Park's greatest advocate and fan. Her love for running, writing and the great outdoors recently paved the path for a career move as the new Marketing and Planning Director at the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department.

Richards says she thinks Riverview is underutilized. She's determined to fix that.

â??I've traveled a bit, but I think Riverview Park is one of the best places to run,â?? Richards told me. She's has competed in 28 marathons stretching from Australia to Maui, so she has a lot of experience to draw from (see related story).

Hannibal has more than 20 parks, which is pretty impressive given its population. Riverview is the crown jewel of the bunch. It is 103-years-old, which has earned it a spot on the impressive National Register for Historic Places. Hardly a family in Hannibal doesn't have a photo album with pictures posed at the park when the trees turn colors in the fall.

In fact, this mild winter has coaxed many people outside year-round. The Parks Department doesn't keep attendance records, but Richards wouldn't be surprised if 2011-12 winter were a record-breaker. She has noticed considerably more people enjoying the three trails that wind through Riverview than ever before, and she's the local expert. She runs every day, but never indoors.

â??I do not treadmill. I just hate it. I can't force myself to do it.â?? Instead, she slogs through any kind of weather that Mother Nature throws at her. When it's icy or snowy, she even straps chains to her sneakers to run.

Now that winter is officially giving way to spring, the parks are hopping. I took my girls to a couple of parks this week and the kids waited in lines for the slides (or just pushed their way to the front ;) But the parks offer so much more than swing sets and walking paths.

Coming up at 10 a.m. March 24th, Riverview Park will host a Nature Walk. A Department of Conservation forester will lead the walk and identify trees and plants along the path.

With Hannibal public schools on spring break this week, the Parks Department opened the Ramp Park this week, and it's teeming with scooters, skateboards and roller blades. People are out practicing softball and playing tennis. You can find a list of scheduled events here, but more activities are added continuously.

We took the family out to test the rigors of the disc golf course this week. We'll look at that adventure in the next column.

Take care~Sarah D.