Why We Love Our Parks

Stories from neighbors about why they love Aurora Highlands Parks.

Foraging in Virginia Highlands Park

If you walk along Joyce Street in the fall you might notice Asian women picking up acorns from the ground near the softball fields of Virginia Highlands Park. Why, you might wonder, are they collecting the acorns when even the squirrels aren’t interested in them?

The trees that line the east side of that block of South Joyce are Quercus acutissimaor Sawtooth Oak. (Some of these trees line the parking lot of the upper soccer field, too.) Native to China, Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, and the Himalayas, these lovely oaks have been widely planted in many areas outside their natural range. They have long, toothed leaves and plentiful acorns with a distinctive cap that is covered in soft bristles.

It’s the nut of the acorn that is used in Korean cooking. Acorns have been a staple in the cuisines of many cultures, but preparing them is time consuming—you can’t just shell them and pop them in the oven to roast. Acorns are full of varying amounts of bitter tannins, depending on the species. Although Quercus acutissima  has been planted in America largely to provide wildlife food, its acorns of are so bitter that squirrels and other wildlife eat them only when food is scarce. However, the acorns can be dried and ground into a flour, which is soaked in water. The starch sinks, and the water containing the bitter tannins is discarded (rinse and repeat, over and over).

The main use of this starch is to make a dish called dotorimuk, or acorn jelly. I’ve never eaten it, but from what I can tell, it has the consistency guava paste or super-concentrated Jello. It is usually made in a pan, sliced when fully set, and then mixed with vegetables and tossed with a soy-sesame sauce.

Go into any Korean market and you can buy acorn starch. Whether the women who collect the acorns are frugal, purists, or just enjoy the forage-to-table experience, who knows? Next time I see somebody out there, I’ll ask.

By Natasha Atkins

Nelly Custis Park Lantern Walk

The Custis Park Lantern walk last week was delightful. Waldorf School children made colorful lanterns by gluing tissue paper shapes to small glass canning jars. Each jar was fitted with a warming candle and hung from a stick. In late afternoon, families gathered and children played happily on the structure, swings and grass. As the sun set, candles were lit and we formed a line along the path. What a beautiful sight! We walked, slowly with lanterns held high, swinging. We sang as we went, a lovely tune, ‘my little lantern, lighting the dark…. here in the park…’ Repetitive, hypnotic, enchanting, our procession followed the contours of the park, east to west, into the trees. At the western junction of the path, we formed a circle and sang, making sure that the circle expanded to include everyone.

Then we acknowledged each other, bid farewell, and went our separate ways.

By an Aurora Highlands neighbor

Virginia Highlands Park

Is a great place to sled down the hill in the snow if you’re a kid or…
And if it’s snowing or…

“Maggie” Litman. Lover of Aurora Highlands Parks.

An Aurora Highlands Pocket Park

A few months after welcoming my nervous and timid puppy, Coconut, to the family, I stumbled upon Nelly Custis Park on 24th St. It had taken weeks to get her to feel confident to walk the streets around our neighborhood as everything was new and much larger than this tiny 4 pound puppy.

When we came across Nelly Custis Park, we walked inside the gate and sat on the bench for some time. There was something special about this park for both Coconut and me. Unlike Virginia Highlands and Eads Parks with playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, and softball fields, where people tend to walk through them rather than take the time to sit and enjoy them, this quiet pocket park was more natural and peaceful even as children played games in the green space or adults walked their dogs through the park and made conversation. The weeks became months and the months became years and Coconut, who now is 12 years old, and I still enjoy our time in this lovely little park. Coconut walks a bit slower now and so do I, but we still enjoy a neighborly gathering place for the whole community where we run into so many old and new faces both the human and canine kind.

By Kari Klaus

Childhood Memories in
Virginia Highlands Park

Virginia Highlands Park (Formerly Aurora Hills) takes me back to my childhood of playing with my brother, cousins and friends. It was the only place in our neighborhood that we could all meet up at and play in safely. We used to play tennis, swing on the swings, play basketball, play hide and go seek, and even race each other up and down the hills. Oh and not to mention, where all the kids in the neighborhood gathered to go sledding when it snowed! It brought such a sense of community to have a place that we could all meet at. That’s where we would meet new kids that moved into the neighborhood.

This park was also where we spent every summer, attending Aurora Hills Summer Day Camp. It was based in the community center next to the Library and we would have so much fun doing outdoor activities in the park. So many precious memories!

By K. Wilson