Ode to the Reno We Love

I once lived in McGill, Nev., a ghost town with a decaying park. Swingsets and jungle gyms were overgrown with weeds, falling apart. Locals tried, with limited success, to arrest the inevitable with buckets of paint. The park had been built by Kennecott Copper. The mine left town. The park was left to entropy, a long, slow decline.

I’ve lived in Sparks since 1993. One April Sunday in those years, my husband and I hopped on our bikes and cruised to Pah Rah Mountain Park, where folks were roller-blading, playing Frisbee, sliding and swinging.

The park, completed in 1988, was built by the city of Sparks. Government money. Tax dollars. Unlike fenced parks with locked gates in, say, Manhattan, anyone can use the public picnic areas, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, volleyball, basketball and tennis courts.

From Pah Rah, we rode to a bike super-highway along Sparks Boulevard. The two-way paved lane runs along a drainage ditch where mallards swam through cattails. Then over Interstate 80 to the Truckee River bike path. No toll or ticket needed to cruise along this paved route, portions of which were constructed over the years with money from local and state governments. A portion of the bike path that was closed last year has been repaved and reopened between Rock Park and the Nevada Mental Health Institute.

Rock Park was humming with visitors and one or two parties, complete with balloons and energetic toddlers. A woman threw a ball for two terriers. Kids rode bikes with training wheels on the path. “Can I stick my feet in the water?” a girl asked her mom. “Only if you don’t get anything else wet,” mom replied.

The river here has been retooled into a whitewater park, like downtown Reno, for tubing and kayaking. The city of Sparks funded the project with land/water conservation grants.

Is my theme obvious? The point of government spending is to enhance our community’s standard of living. That’s something to consider when spending cuts are on the table, when people call for government shut-downs at any level.

We continued on to downtown Reno, weaving past the movie theater, Twitter-pated teens, a drum circle in Wingfield Park and a barefooted man performing on a slackline (like a tight rope strung between two trees, only not tight—thus, slack).

This scene would not have existed when we moved to Nevada 18 years ago.

Colleagues new to Reno recently joined me for an evening on the town. They’ve lived in New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta, but they don’t complain (to me) that Reno seems provincial. We ended the night on the deck at Silver Peak, discussing Reno’s cultural apex. Was it the divorce era of the ’30s and’40s when rich socialites and Hollywood stars came to Nevada to get unhitched? Was it the ’40s and ’50s, when stars like Mae West and Sammy Davis Jr. played at the Mapes Hotel? Maybe. But these cultural bursts weren’t ignited by Reno locals.

Thinking about it, I proposed that now is Reno’s cultural high point, considering our thriving local arts and culture scene with its theaters, galleries and local music. There’s Artown, Burning Man, Reno Jazz Festival, Aces Stadium. Seems like this is a golden age for Northern Nevada, the creative soul of the state. The investment of local governments in Stuff We Like makes us Love It Here (while, in cases like the Aces Stadium, it may have helped bankrupt us, too).

I chewed on the idea of Reno’s cultural apex while winding my bike past Brüka and the Riverside Artist Lofts Sunday. Congress was threatening to shut down the federal government. Nevada lawmakers were wrangling over what limbs to hack.

I chilled, thinking about what entropy might bring.