Fred Eskew Recreation Area Dedication

Rosaryville State Park
April 22, 2012

Reflections on Fred
Secretary John Griffin
Maryland Department of Natural Resources

It is a privilege for me to be here today to take part in this long overdue recognition of a true friend, a wonderful colleague and a great conservationist, Fred Eskew.

It is especially fitting that we commemorate this extraordinary man and his extraordinary legacy on Earth Day, which would have been Fred’s 74th birthday.

We’re all thrilled that Fred’s children could be with us today… Fred Jr., Denise, Joseph -- who’s out from Colorado -- and the youngest, Mary Catherine. Their mother Peggy Eskew is here with us, as are their children -- who sadly never had the opportunity to get to know Fred.

One more family member I’d like to recognize – Fred’s brother-in-law and long time DNR-employee Pat Bright, Sr. (Patrick Jr. is hosting us today.)

Many people pass before their time, never realizing their goals. But in his all too short 48 years, Fred accomplished enough for several lifetimes over.

Fred’s passion for conservation and recreation led him to work outside of the box – and regularly outside of our bureaucracy – often to the dismay of his managers and our controls agencies, but always to the benefit of our resources and our citizens.

And for more than a quarter century Fred’s career followed his heart, supporting recreation and land preservation in Maryland through:

  • his early days with Prince George’s and Charles Counties,
  • his tenure as President of the Maryland Parks and Recreation Association,
  • and of course, his state service -- as Director of Program Open Space, Assistant Secretary for Capital Programs and the Governor’s Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officer.

At DNR Fred’s vision, grit and determination set the stage for our preservation efforts today.

More than any one person in our State’s history, Fred was responsible for creating our innovative, highly successful Program Open Space, which has long been a national model for in land preservation. This program alone has helped fund the purchase of more than 2,200 local parks and recreation areas and more than 90,000 acres of state lands.

In this and many other ways, Fred was far ahead of his time.

Well before science documented the benefits of streams buffers, Fred recognized the connection between human activity and water quality, placing an emphasis on buying land along our stream valley parks.

He established private enterprise concessions on state lands at Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Cecil County, Somers Cove in Somerset County and here at Rosaryville.

He started the Natural Heritage Program to protect rare, threatened and endangered plants and wildlife.

He started our In-House construction crew – a very skilled and resilient group, who to this day tackle our most challenging and complex construction and renovation projects.

He partnered with the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland to plan and develop the beautiful Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden, a monument to Maryland’s diverse landscape.

He was instrumental in preserving Belt Woods in Prince Georges County, a National Landmark and one of the oldest stands of oak and poplar in Maryland… indeed the U.S.

However, despite this most impressive list of accomplishments, one of Fred’s most remarkable qualities was the capacity to engage and enjoy people. He had an innate ability to connect with anyone, from a governor or senator to a waterman or farmer.

Fred always understated his own talents, which were significant.

He had an innate ability to get things done, supported no doubt by his remarkable common sense.

He was also truly a caring, nice guy, who was always willing to help anyone, personally or professionally.

Pat Noonan, Chairman Emeritus of the Conservation Fund, offered this:

Freddy was my mentor when I began work at The Nature Conservancy in the 1970s. Moreover, when I was a freshman at St. John’s High School, Freddy was captain of the team and All Metropolitan Lineman, tough as nails from Southeast DC. While I admired his football and leadership abilities, I benefited much more from his outstanding land conservation skills.

Fred’s close friend and colleague, DNR’s former Assistant Secretary Mike Nelson who now lives in California, wanted to share these thoughts:

DNR is a collection of individuals, excited by its mission, devoted to its success, and thrilled by its achievements.

But this organization that we revere has a history, a tale, a creation myth that is populated by great men and women that were larger than life.

Fred Eskew was one of them.

Fred was a “coach “and a “visionary” before these terms became the buzzwords of leadership training and continuous improvement. He prized individuals who were loyal and competent, and recognized, that having a good time was imperative to enhanced performance.

Fred’s legacy at DNR is huge, what he accomplished through Program Open Space impacts everyone who visits or lives in Maryland to this day.

One of Fred’s signature projects was the Fair Hill Training Center, a spectacular public private partnership constructed on a 500-acre lease hold that would include a training track, an auction house, a equine research facility, and a condominium regime comprised of stalls and stables.

Though he did not live to see the project’s completion, today, it is one of the world’s premier training facilities, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner was a resident, one of this year’s Kentucky Derby favorites, Union Rags, is an alumnus. [While Nelson says it was one of the more controversial projects he managed for is also one of which he is most proud.]

Fred was certainly not a Shakespearian scholar, but would certainly have appreciated this quotation: “Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing.”

Even now, Fred is most certainly watching over us and his amazing legacy – no doubt hoping we don’t screw anything up. So, here’s to you, Fred, thank you for your inspiration, your stewardship, your leadership and most of all your friendship. You set the conservation bar to which we all continue to aspire today.

Return to the Fred Eskew Recreation Area Dedication webpage.

Click here for more information and directions to Rosaryville State Park.