Youth Interns Describe the Importance of Balboa Park in the Community
When you think back to your fondest childhood memories, what immediately comes to mind? For many San Diegans, their happiest memories may involve beach days, Sea World, Belmont Park, and the Zoo. But there’s one place at the heart of the city: Balboa Park. With its variety of experiences, many museums, and historic attractions like the Dorothea Laub Balboa Park Carousel, the park has earned its spot as an impactful place for making and reliving memories. After being closed for renovations, the Balboa Park Carousel reopened on July 25th, a day also known as National Carousel Day. Families flocked to score a free ride on the merry-go-round that had been restored back to its original design from 1910. Many adult visitors were able to relive childhood memories that they had of the carousel, and children got the chance to create the same generational memory that will follow them throughout life.
We, the Aaron Price Fellow interns, got the chance to speak with some of the many people that showed up to National Carousel Day. Between the bustle around the food vendors, the sweet tunes of the carousel, and the relentless summer sun, people had a lot to say, especially when asked their favorite animal on the Carousel. Valerie, a puppeteer with the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater caught our eye with the cat puppet she had in her hand. She was putting her skills to work by entertaining the children and guests waiting in line. When asked what her favorite animal on the carousel was, she gestured to her puppet and said, “The cat, of course!”
Don and Susan, who were enjoying the women dancing in Jalisco dresses, both grew up in San Diego and have visited the Carousel many times together. Both Don and Susan were excited to share their experiences that surrounded the carousel and Don expressed his sincere favoritism towards the camel.
Next, we spoke to someone you may have missed if you weren’t looking up. Scarlet, who goes by the stagename “Checkers”, was one of the stilt walkers there to entertain event goers. She had checker patterns all over her. When asked for her favorite carousel animal, she, like everyone else we asked, had a surprisingly immediate answer. Scarlet’s favorite is the ostrich. The Balboa Park Carousel has 52 unique animal rides. This lets people have more freedom to express themselves through their choice of animal, helping them establish a stronger connection with their experience. Being able to recall it immediately when asked, showed us that that connection was lasting.
Scarlet also told us that she is originally from Pennsylvania and often visits Balboa Park because it reminds her of home and the very similar brass ring carousel she used to go on as a child. How lovely that Balboa Park can evoke childhood memories for people that did not even grow up with the park.
At the stand of an event food vendor, we came across a small family, a father named Hassan and his daughter in high spirits, who were waiting in line for some snacks. When interviewed, they told us they already rode the Carousel and came for the free event. They both really enjoyed the Carousel and despite the long wait, talked about how surprisingly long it lasted and rated the experience as “5 stars!”
On top of it all, there was one question that got us all a remarkably quick answer: “What is your favorite animal on the carousel?” Nobody hesitated. It seemed everyone had picked out their favorite character and left it on the tip of their tongue, just waiting for someone to ask. Perhaps picking out a favorite animal is just as important as actually riding on the Carousel. It’s a piece of the overall experience that tethers them to their sweet memories of the park. As a kid grows up, their favorite animal remains on the Carousel, grounding a small piece of their childhood.
In addition, all of our interviewees seemed to come out of the event with positive experiences and a strengthened bond with both their families and the park. Although attendees had to deal with lengthy lines and the blaring summer sun, many shared with us that they enjoyed the event because of the memories they made. It seems that as families continue to move on and branch out, their Balboa Park roots will always be cherished. Individual events such as National Carousel Day are an example of what makes up the Balboa Park experience and how it can bring together a mosaic of experiences that will last a lifetime.
Following National Carousel Day, we had the opportunity to reflect on our own individual experiences with Balboa Park and compare them to the experiences of others that we observed.
For me, Balboa Park is a historic landmark and a place full of memories with friends and family. As I was interning for Forever Balboa, we worked to hand out flyers for National Carousel Day, along with simply enjoying the views of food vendors filled with sweet pastries and performers on stilts. Despite the summer heat, I was surrounded by many cheerful families, with many willing to be interviewed. I’ve gone to the park before in the past – wandering through cherry blossoms and looking at booths with handcrafted goods – but being part of this event allowed me to see it in a new light and the hardwork and dedication needed to run the park. Balboa Park creates a unique environment where people can both learn and have fun in this safe space, and events like this only help strengthen people’s connections to it.
My experience in Balboa Park has been like no other place I’ve ever been to. When I moved from Washington to San Diego almost ten years ago, one of the first things my mom took my brother and me to see was the California Tower in all its glory. Little did we know, we would return to that same tower for my mom’s wedding just a few years later. Along with the transition from rain to shine, Balboa Park helped me realize that San Diego is a place of wondrous amenities and vibrant culture. I have since visited Balboa Park on numerous school and fellowship trips, and after knowing the place for so long, I can confidently say that the park has taught me how to love and care for my community more than anything else has.
Having grown up in San Diego, Balboa Park felt like a place where I could always do something exciting and feel welcomed. I’ve found myself enjoying events like the Cherry Blossom Festival and December Nights with friends and family, sparking my childhood curiosity by exploring museums with School In The Park, and discussing the park’s impact on community health and culture on school field trips and as an Aaron Price Fellow. These experiences have helped me grow to see Balboa Park as a monument, commemorating the rich and diverse histories of our city and its inhabitants, while also nurturing a sense of community for us to carry into the future.
A majority of my time spent at Balboa Park has been with my school and family. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve spent a lot of time at Balboa Park for photoshoots. I found myself in the rose gardens snapping photos for people that are from San Diego and other parts of California. I also come to Balboa for the arts. In October, my photography is going to be shown at an exhibition in The Museum of Photographic Arts. From field trips to the Zoo, to hanging out with family and friends, Balboa Park has been a staple place in my upbringing as a San Diegan.
Observing visitors’ experiences can help us identify the overall impact the park has on them. While the re-opening of the Balboa Park Carousel celebrated one aspect of the park, it serves as a window into how individuals are able to build core memories. Similar attractions and community-run events work together to establish a cumulative positive impression of the park, comprised of individual events and experiences. The park’s beauty lies in its ability to provide something unique to everyone who visits. To many, the park can serve as a tether, somewhere that they can keep coming back to and enjoy themselves as they move along their journey. It may be the location for one field trip or family visit during a lifetime, but it can also become an integral part of an individual’s career. Nevertheless, the variety of experiences in the park creates a complex tapestry that traces people’s journeys, creating a larger Balboa Park experience that people will be able to look back on, now and in the future.
Forever Balboa Park welcomed six high school interns from the Aaron Price Fellows Program in the summer of 2023 to help provide a youth perspective to the organization. The interns worked in two groups. Marketing Communications interns wrote this article for our blog about the important factors that contribute to making a lasting connection to a place like Balboa Park. Focus Group Facilitation interns hosted a youth focus group to add a youthful perspective to our strategic plan. Both projects are great resources for Forever Balboa Park, as we work to ensure communities of diverse ages and backgrounds feel welcomed in Balboa Park.