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Group of seniors making jogging at the park

Santa Clara County resident Diane Cho has used mass transit near her home, but she had never ridden the Bay Area Rapid Transit train system until she participated in AARP California’s July field trip to an urban rooftop park in downtown San Francisco.

Cho, 72, lives more than 30 miles from San Francisco, in Mountain View. She joined about a dozen other participants in the outing, which gave pointers on using BART and other transit systems and ended with a visit to the Salesforce Transit Center and Rooftop Park — an urban expanse spread over 5.4 acres, four stories above the streets of San Francisco and home to a walking trail and 13 botanical gardens.

The outing was part of AARP California’s Let’s Take it Outside program, which offers free virtual and in-person events to help participants learn about and explore outdoor public spaces in their communities. The program is open to the public and people of all ages. AARP in San Jose kicked the program off in March as a virtual series focused on outdoor locations throughout the Bay Area.

Expansion set for 2024

In July, the AARP program added in-person, guided visits to some locations featured in the virtual sessions, according to Shea DeAnda Zerbino, a communications manager for AARP California. Starting in 2024, AARP California will offer the events beyond the Bay Area.

“The purpose of this program is for folks to learn about outdoor public spaces and places and have the confidence to explore them with a group or alone,” Zerbino says.

According to a 2018 AARP survey of AARP California members, 91 percent of respondents said that parks add value to their communities, and 65 percent said they use them almost daily. However, 62 percent also said that they would like to use parks more often but can’t because of distance or difficulty in getting to them.

The program aligns with AARP’s Livable Communities initiative, in which AARP works with communities to help make them more livable for all ages and abilities.

A hike around the bay

Nearly 90 people attended the program’s March inaugural virtual session highlighting the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which runs more than 400 miles along the ridges that ring the area.

An April virtual event explored San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, which offers a special program for older adults called Senior Safari. Other virtual events have focused on the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and the East Bay Regional Park District.

The field trip to the San Francisco rooftop park followed a June virtual event presented by AARP California and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

Cho, who often visits parks near her home, enjoyed the field trip and learning how to use BART (although it doesn’t service her hometown). “The field trip inspired me to venture beyond our local Silicon Valley park system,” she wrote in an email to AARP.

Happy Hollow Foundation Executive Director Rhonda Nourse has seen firsthand the benefits of her park’s participation in the Let’s Take it Outside program. During the late April virtual presentation on the park, she discussed Senior Safari, which each year runs one day a month from May through October, offering early entry, free admission and parking for people 50 and older.

After the session ended, Nourse was at the park’s main entry helping with a Senior Safari preregistration event when a couple walked up and said they had just seen the virtual program and decided to come preregister.

Program boosts outreach

The South San Francisco couple had never been to Happy Hollow and were inspired by the program to drive to the park. According to Nourse, that’s proof that the Let’s Take it Outside program was helping the foundation expand its outreach.

“We are well on our way to serving more than 3 ,000 seniors this season,” Nourse noted.

Recordings of Let’s Take it Outside virtual events are available on AARP California’s YouTube channel.

Julie Rasicot is a writer in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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