Breathing New Life Into Old Parks
Maryland’s Community Parks & Playgrounds Program

By Marketa Walker
Slide at a city playground Remember, if you will, the carefree images of childhood… Flying down a shiny metal sliding board, pumping your legs back and forth “as high as the sky” on a swing. Family and friends gathered for a pick-up game of softball, tossing around a frisbee, the sizzle of hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. For many of us, these activities, almost universal in our happy memories, took place at a neighborhood park or playground.

Today, many parks and playgrounds that once were havens for childhood recreation and community unity have fallen into disrepair. Overgrown fields stand where there once were ball diamonds. Drafty pavilions leak and rusted play equipment is often covered with graffiti. Outdated facilities with concrete surfaces and heavy metal swings and sliding boards, are now considered hazardous to our children.

According to the 1999 Playground-Related Statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 200,000 children are injured on America’s playgrounds each year, and 76 percent of these injuries occur on public playground equipment.

Out with the old, in with the new…
Enter Maryland’s Community Parks and Playgrounds Program (CPP). Established by the Maryland General Assembly in 2001 to address the need for improved park structures in older communities, CPP focuses on restoring and creating new park and green space systems within existing cities and towns. Through the program, local governments apply for flexible grants to rehabilitate, expand or improve existing parks, create new parks, or purchase and install new playground equipment in older neighborhoods and intensely developed areas throughout the state.

In responding to local government requests, CPP ensures restored playground equipment is accessible for those with disabilities, and meets National Playground Safety Standards; helps rebuild neighborhoods through the restoration and development of parks and open spaces; and reinvests in Maryland’s established and intensely developed communities.

Encouraging Community Partnerships…
Colmar Manor Toddler Park
Town of Colmar Manor, Prince George’s County
Last replaced in the early 1970s, the play equipment at Colmar Manor Toddler Park was considered unsafe and outdated. The community desperately wanted to develop a safer play area for children and a meeting place for families. A local shopping center owner agreed to donate 5 percent of the value of receipts collected by residents, raising $12,000 to assist with the rehabilitation. The Town of Colmar Manor then received a CPP grant for $75,000, resulting in a public-private partnership that replaced the park’s outdated play equipment, pavilion and benches and improved accessibility for all.

A very popular program indeed…
In the fiscal year 2002 budget, The Maryland General Assembly approved $11 million for CPP to be distributed over a two-year period – an amount that pales in comparison to grants requested by the state’s local municipalities.

During fiscal years 2002 and 2003, CP&P generated well over $44 million in requests for funding. More than 300 grant applications were received from county and municipal governments and every Maryland jurisdiction (including Baltimore City) was represented among the pool of applications.

Unfortunately the demands for the program far exceed the amount of funding available. While the average grant ran approximately $100,000, playground replacement projects can cost more than $120,000. To date, there is still $29 million in unmet need.

A Safe Haven For Children To Play…
Southern Cecil County Community Center
Town of Cecilton, Cecil County
The Town of Cecilton received a grant in the amount of $45,900 to replace antiquated, non–Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant playground equipment at the Southern Cecil County Community Center. The only other playground in this rural area was located three-quarters of a mile away, across a major state highway. Mayor John Bunnell comments: “…our playground was in violation of code and potentially dangerous. The Community Parks and Playgrounds Program is very important… Without it, the Town would have nothing available for our children. We have had several citizens and parents come forward to thank us for the new facility. It has been a huge success.”

So who administers the program?
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Program Open Space staff administers CPP, preparing and distributing application materials to local governments as well as implementing and executing program processes. DNR also conducts grant-writing workshops to assist local governments in documenting need and meeting program criteria, and to provide background information and analysis on applications.

Playground at a Maryland State Park

DNR’s Urban Resources Coordinating Council, a multi-agency review team of urban planners, landscape architects, engineers and urban ecologists, evaluates each application and then provides recommendations for grant selections to the DNR Secretary. Following this review, the grants are submitted to the Board of Public Works for approval.

Improving Community Pride and Purpose…
Glades Town Park Community Center
Town of Oakland, Garrett County
The Town of Oakland received a grant for $75,000 to purchase and install additional playground equipment, picnic tables and benches, and to construct a pavilion and restroom facility at Glades Town Park. According to Mayor Asa McCain, “Oakland would not have realized our goal of a family park without Community Parks and Playgrounds funds. We wanted to serve all facets of our community together, as we were not fully meeting the needs of younger children or families, or offering day long, all-weather activities. Oakland has severe weather more than half of the year and the program allowed us to construct a pavilion with restrooms and a children’s playground. The next phase of our park development is to enclose the current structure into a community center, which will allow us to have year round activities. For small rural towns like Oakland, the program is the best source of funds for our projects. Without these funds, the completion of our project could be delayed for years.”

Who is eligible to apply for funds?
CPP provides funding to local governments, including both counties and municipalities. Non-profit organizations are encouraged to partner with local governments in project sponsorship and implementation. Each local government is limited to one grant submission package per round of grant competition. Match funding is not a requisite; however, all projects are required to have a funding plan to adequately maintain the improvements into the future.

A place for a quiet reflection…
Pinkey Oden Park
Town of Cheverly, Prince George’s County
The Town of Cheverly was the first local jurisdiction to utilize the newly established federal “Good Neighbor Program” to acquire a vacant lot in the town. A house that remained on the property was dangerous and could not be rehabilitated so it was carefully removed and the site’s large trees protected. The Town then received a CPP grant for $45,000 to develop the site into a passive park with benches, beautifully landscaped flowerbeds and a sundial focal point. In July of 2000, the Mayor and Council passed a resolution to name the new park Pinkey Oden Park in honor of Pinkey Oden, a long-time Cheverly and County volunteer for beautification and senior citizens advocacy.

What’s been done
CPP projects can be found throughout the state of Maryland. Over a two-year period – Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003, the Board of Public Works approved a total of $10.9 million to local governments to restore 110 parks and playgrounds in 49 municipalities and 12 counties. With this funding, local governments transformed old neighborhood structures to places of pride and purpose. Grant recipients purchased and installed ADA-accessible play equipment and proper safety surfacing, developed passive parks, created ball-fields, replaced basketball equipment and benches, restored pavilions, created park access-ways and rehabilitated waterfront boardwalks.

Restoring A Community Worth Coming Home To…
Wheeler-Lockerman Park
Town of Denton, Caroline County
With a $176,000 CPP grant, the Town of Denton revitalized Wheeler-Lockerman Park, transforming a once vacant parcel in the town’s Hope community that was all too familiar with loitering and illegal activity. Mayor H. Victoria Goldsborough tells us, “The grant funding is a beginning… providing opportunities for new and varied recreation to all the residents of Denton that the town is financially unable to offer on its own. These funds will [be used to] construct tennis courts, a picnic pavilion, and make improvements at a community ballfield where access to open space and recreation is very limited. Without this program, we would not be in a position to construct these facilities for several years.”

And the Future?
In fiscal year 2004, $5 million dollars will be available to further the work of the Community Parks and Playgrounds Program. Not only does the program restore and create parks, playgrounds and open space, it reinvests in developed communities, rebuilds neighborhoods and plays a significant role in improving the quality life in Maryland, ensuring those happy memories of childhood will endure for the children of tomorrow.

Marketa L. Walker...
serves as Program Manager for The Community Parks and Playgrounds Program. Marketa has over 9-years experience administering grant programs and has been with DNR Program Open Space since 2001. She holds a BA in Communication Arts from Hood College, Frederick, Maryland and a MS Degree in Administration from Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

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