Every person has different expectations about what parks should offer. Some people want play structures their squirrely and unsupervised children can risk breaking limbs on. Some people want makeshift baseball diamonds and decrepit basketball hoops. Some people just want hidden places to semi-publicly drink beer and smoke pot. Clearly, judging one set of parks against another can be complicated.
All that said, as someone who has spent a surprising amount of time in the parks of Eugene and Corvallis, I’d say there’s a clear-cut winner (and no, that isn’t a deforestation pun. Deforestation is serious business……for both loggers and environmentalists. Yeah, it’s a paradox or something).
Corvallis/OSU: Unless you really like walking, like perhaps you’re an aspiring podiatrist looking to do some hands-on (foots-on?) research, you better own a bike or an SUV (rule: you’re either for the environment or against it; middle ground is not permissible). The Corvallis parks are fairly spread-out in relation to the OSU campus, ergo making accessing them an exercise in, well, exercising. Yet the requisite physical effort is entirely worth it. Mac Forest, though not technically a park, is gigantic and perfect for those looking to do at least five or so miles of tromping through the woods. Bald Hill is pretty, even though I think some sort of demon monster lives there. Avery Park, the closest to campus, is full of open space for the Frisbee or football inclined, and also has a historic train engine you can climb around on (trust me, no matter how old you are it never stops being fun). Overall, Corvallis offers a surprisingly wide variety of high-quality public spaces for a town of its size.
Eugene/UO: Eugene, in contrast, is embarrassingly sub-par on the park front. Alton Baker is little more than a paved bike path that runs parallel to the Willamette River; I guess it’s a fun park if you like biking in straight lines and dodging the occasional hobo. Hendricks Park is conveniently located about a mile from campus and home to a beautiful flower garden, but is actually a lot smaller than it appears to be initially: size, unlike what my seventh grade health teacher told us, matters. The crown jewel of Eugene parks is Spencer Butte, and though it is entirely possible to walk to the top from campus, 99% of the student body chooses to drive up to the upper parking lot and take the easy two-mile trail to the summit. I can’t abide by that level of laziness, especially in a city that prides itself on being “in touch with nature” and “against modern technology” (I’m pretty certain both those phrases are in the city charter). None of the parks are nearly as spacious as those in Corvallis, leaving little room for any frolicking-like activities.
Verdict: Corvallis/Oregon State takes this vital category in a landslide (which is also not an environmental pun). Considering the rest of the nation perceives the state of Oregon as overrun with foliage, the city with the best parks is therefore most representative of the state as a whole. Yes, that ignores the fact that half of Oregon is god-forsaken desert, but most people outside the state don’t know that. Anyway, the Beavers win this category and take a 2-0 lead for the week.