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Scenic Trails, Strong Community and Vibrant Diversity Equal Love for Montgomery
You enjoy living in Montgomery County for many reasons: the hundreds of parks and trails, the sense of place in your neighborhoods, the diversity of residents, the civic activism, the quality of the schools. Dozens of readers responded passionately to a request from the Montgomery Extra to share your feelings about what makes the county a special place to live. Here are some of the essays. They ha

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Trails, Parks And Recreation
Finding Serenity Off the Road

I moved to Bethesda from Arlington in 1995. It took only a few weeks to discover the allure of downtown Bethesda and the Capital Crescent Trail. I was a novice to the world of running, and the trail beckoned me to run just one mile at first: to River Road and back. In the summertime, the emerald-green trees protected me from the hazy Washington sun.

In the fall, the trail was lined with deep orange, crimson-red and canary-yellow leaves that mysteriously led me to run to the Dalecarlia Tunnel, six miles away.

Soon I was training for a marathon, running round trip from downtown Bethesda to Georgetown every Saturday morning. I trained dutifully for the big race -- stretching my legs near the Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Avenue and faithfully grabbing my granola bagel from Bethesda Bagels after a long run.

Running in the first Montgomery County Marathon in the Parks was a phenomenal experience. My husband awaited my finish on the Capital Crescent Trail in downtown Bethesda. I picked up my pace when I saw him and felt so proud as I completed the final mile. The trail that saw me through one meager mile at the beginning of my journey had now led me to complete 26.2 miles. It was tremendously satisfying.

Running helped me find peace during hectic times at work and at home. The trail was a place to think, dream and find balance. But as life became more complicated, there was less time for running.

Several years later, we were blessed by the arrival of Benjamin, a beautiful baby boy. With his birth on a cold December afternoon, we spent our first few months in the cocoon of our home. I quickly found myself again drawn to long walks, pushing Benjamin in his stroller on our neighborhood trail. After a difficult winter with a new baby, the April cherry blossoms in the Kenwood neighborhood along the trail ushered in a wonderful new stage in our lives. Benjamin would gaze at the cherry blossom wonderland, and I once again found serenity on the trail. We greeted friends and neighbors on the streets of downtown Bethesda and felt embraced by our community.

The Capital Crescent Trail is like an old, faithful friend. It has encouraged me to take on new challenges, given me peace and tranquillity, and helped me deal with being a new mother.

Krysten Jenci

Bethesda

A Garden to Show Off, for Free

What I love most about living in Montgomery County is the park system. I particularly love Brookside Gardens.

I can walk there from my neighborhood, and I took the park for granted until I had out-of-town visitors who went to the gardens with me and asked, "How much is the entrance fee?" They were amazed when I told them it was free. I now show off the park to all my visitors.

Brookside is open year-round and offers special programs for each season. The displays and gardens are always changing, and there is a surprise no matter how often I go. The children's garden is especially delightful and is a learning experience for children and adults. Just go. You will see why I love Brookside Gardens.

Anita Henderson

Silver Spring

Big Fun at Small-Town Ballpark

Who doesn't like baseball, especially the hometown variety? While there is a big league team in Washington starting in a new stadium, Montgomery County is fortunate to have its own team playing its 10th season in its own stadium built by team fans. Shirley Povich Field is home to the Bethesda Big Train, a summer wooden-bat team full of collegiate star players from all over the country.

Povich Field holds more than 700 fans in seats like those at Camden Yards. It has a full-time concessionaire serving the best ballpark food in the area. Great kosher dogs are the leading treat, but you can get a cooked-to-order hamburger, plus a selection of more healthful fare. Big Train always fields strong, competitive teams -- it has never had a losing season in its nine years and has won several league and post-season championships.

In its short history, Big Train has sent four players to the majors, with more than 65 others playing, or who played, minor league ball. Big league scouts are usually at games with their radar guns and clipboards.

Every game is a delight. Not only is there good baseball, but also all sorts of gimmicks to entertain fans. Any night, the team might honor fire and rescue squads; sponsor Slip Into a Good Book Night, a reading promotion for county libraries; or recognize county nonprofit groups -- all in the interest of supporting wholesome community activities. Youngsters race the team's perennially losing mascot, Homer, and his son Bunt around the bases. A water-balloon-batting contest is held each game, with a water-splattered parent pitching to her child.

Big Train's baseball is small-town fantasy right here in our very urban Montgomery County.

John E. Daniel

Kensington

Daniel is a member of the team's booster committee.

It's All a Walk in the Park

Montgomery County's well-planned communities, national gold medal award-winning park system, abundant good jobs, wide variety of housing, superior public education and outstanding libraries all contribute to the high quality of life residents and visitors enjoy today. All this didn't just happen by chance. Generations of local government officials created and approved the overall General Plan for the county and more than 30 area master plans with active participation of residents.

In Montgomery, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission offers 33,000 acres of scenic parkland in more than 400 parks. Among the stars of this incredible park system is the county's undisputed jewel, Brookside Gardens. In addition to azalea, rose, fragrance, butterfly and children's gardens, Brookside offers indoor conservatories filled with exotic and colorful flowering plants and trees, a Japanese teahouse and a popular wedding gazebo.

The parks also offer more than 200 miles of hiking-biking trails, including Sligo Creek Trail in Takoma Park and Silver Spring, the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda and my favorite, the 25-mile Rachel Carson Greenway Trail through eastern Montgomery. Active teens and fit adults will find high adventure on the section of Greenway south from Route 29 (Colesville Road) in Silver Spring. With a trail head near Trader Joe's, this "billy goat trail" provides the challenges of steep rock climbing and falling water along the geological fall line between the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

For other active recreation, there's ice skating and hockey and hundreds of playgrounds. My favorite is the spectacular Adventure Playground at South Germantown Recreational Park.

Marion Joyce

Silver Spring

Joyce is a former spokeswoman for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

A Sense Of Community
Embracing 'Extreme Diversity'

During my 20 years as a resident of Montgomery County, I've often reflected on how hard it is to feel connected and included as we live in a fast-paced culture in which many community members commute long distances and face other challenges to regular interaction. These factors are further compounded by the isolating cultures in the large, impersonal institutions that many of us work for.

Our local government is huge and far removed, and many workers cannot afford to live in the community they support. We are so diverse -- some are very, very rich; others are very, very poor -- but our composite data hide this huge canyon separating us and many of our neighborhoods. Amazingly, a typical local school has more than 50 cultures trying to coexist. And, last but not least, our heritage is that of a mostly white suburb created as people fled the challenges of urban living.

But, despite these many challenges, I see glimmers of hope for a different reality, one in which all can feel connected and supported, no matter their primary languages, incomes or cultural traditions. I live with joy as I experience the work of some wonderful pioneers who can teach us how to realize this untapped potential for relationship building and creating community:

· Ray and Michael, who go out of their way to gather regularly with their group of Montgomery Blair High School friends of more than 20 years.

· Donna and Jim, who are warmly persistent at welcoming and checking in on new people who visit and revisit St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington.

· David and Barbara, who greet me on a weekly basis, with sincere interest in my life, as they stock food and bag groceries at Snider's grocery store.

· Mita and Monica, both immigrants and new to east Silver Spring, who courageously held potluck dinners in their respective apartment complexes to get to know their neighbors.

These reflections produce a vision of a community that has become the envy of others. In my vision, articles and books are written about the resilient and enterprising people of Montgomery because they embraced extreme diversity and the changing demographic tide to overcome huge obstacles to create a vibrant and thriving community for themselves and newcomers. The difference is palpable as you enter a local coffee shop, the neighborhood school and the lobby of high-rise apartment buildings -- everyone working together to make their county the best it can be.

Frankie Blackburn

Silver Spring

Blackburn is executive director

of IMPACT Silver Spring.

Creatively Connecting People

After 40 years in the same Potomac house where I'd raised seven children, I moved into a condominium in downtown Bethesda. Many of my fellow retirees had left for places that are sunnier and cheaper to live in, but I decided to stay in Montgomery County. I've enjoyed having easy access to world-class museums, theaters and concerts, as well as the proximity to beaches, mountains and cities. I've appreciated the good schools and dependable services. And in the process of selling my house, I found another reason to stay. I realized how much I value this county's progressive approach to things. Let me explain.

Leaving my house wasn't easy. So many years, so many memories. And so much stuff! What to do with it? I couldn't stand to have a yard sale, see strangers sift through things and negotiate over prices. What I had to divest had a history. It seemed disrespectful to reduce these things to their market value.

Then I heard about the Montgomery Volunteer Center's Donations Hotlink, a clearinghouse for donations to nonprofit agencies. You list the items you want to give away, and they forward the list to area groups working with refugees, homeless people and low-income families. It seemed the perfect solution. My furniture, ladders, lamps and fans went to people who really needed them. Little boys who were sleeping on the floor would soon sleep in my bunk beds. My basement shelves would be stocked with food at an agency that feeds the hungry. My piano was sure to lift spirits at a mental-health facility.

The county also has a project called "Don't Dump. Donate!," through which you can recycle building and construction materials to nonprofit charitable organizations for reuse. That's where I took the bricks and lumber I found in a corner of my shed.

I donated books, games and CDs to Friends of the Library; they operate two used-book stores and give the proceeds to the public libraries. The bike my daughter left went to Bikes for the World to be reconditioned and sent to an underdeveloped country.

So in the process of downsizing, I was reminded of the things that make Montgomery a good place to live. I like living in a place that supports libraries, promotes recycling, encourages giving, seeks creative solutions to human problems and connects resources, programs and people. Yes, taxes are high here, but when we invest in the common good, it pays off in a higher quality of life for everyone.

Georgia Lewis

Bethesda

For Many, a Home by Choice

If you knew that the church where I was confirmed was built in 1702, would you understand why I think of Montgomery County as still in the early stages of its evolution?

If you knew that I grew up in one of the few households in Massachusetts where Kennedy was a dirty word and spent my adolescence being baited and berated by my mother's extended family for my interest in issues such as reproductive choice, the Equal Rights Amendment, civil rights and apartheid, would you understand why I feel at home in Montgomery?

If your Dutch father immigrated to the United States by way of Argentina, would you know why I've found a place where my history fits right in?

My first exposure to Montgomery came when I lived in the District in the early 1980s, and in those days, Montgomery was still largely cornfields and cows. I recall emerging from the long green tunnel that was Wisconsin Avenue, north of Bethesda, to see the Grosvenor Towers rising from the hill. After a five-year hiatus in Seattle where I met my husband, a Chevy Chase native, we returned to Montgomery. This is when Montgomery began to seem like a small town in middle America. Everywhere we went, we ran into someone my husband grew up with or went to high school with or knew from the University of Maryland.

Some of my cousins in Amsterdam tell me that Americans have lost the knack of sitting down to a good meal and a good debate about politics or sports or life. These cousins haven't been to the crab feast at my pool, haven't whiled away hours chatting with other parents during soccer games, haven't attended a town hall where residents are passionate about all the details that make a county livable and certainly haven't been to a Redskins game.

What I like best about Montgomery is that so many of its residents have chosen to live here -- have chosen Montgomery over Northern Virginia because of the political bent of the county, have chosen Montgomery over Prince George's or the District because of the schools, have chosen Montgomery over their native land to build a future for their children, have chosen to stay in this place that is still inventing itself.

Jane de Winter

Kensington

De Winter is president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

Shaped by Diversity
A Place That Opens Your Mind

From the outside, Montgomery County might not seem very different from other counties in the state. From an inside perspective, it is so much more. It is home. Montgomery is an incredibly diverse place to live. About 30 percent of the state's foreign-born population resides here. I find this especially fascinating because probably more than half of my friends are from a different country. I've met people from Pakistan, Vietnam, Peru, India, the Philippines and many other countries. I think it is important to see how people of other cultures live because it really opens your mind to the world and all the different people in it.

Having such diversity in Montgomery has prevented me from developing a closed mind about the various cultures around the world.

Stefani Schaper, senior

Col. Zadok Magruder High School

Embodying the American Dream

I was not born in Montgomery County; I was born in the District. My parents came from Colombia and dreamed of a better future for us. I lived in the District for more than five years in a working-class area. My parents had to work nonstop to make ends meet, and the area was known to have drug dealers and gang wars.

What my mother and I didn't know was that my father was saving money for us to move. My father heard of a place that was safer to raise a child. That place was Montgomery. So, when I was 5, we packed our stuff and moved. When I first saw Montgomery, I was kind of shocked. I was so used to seeing tall buildings. I had never seen so many trees in one area. It was as if someone took me out of the city and placed me in Yellowstone National Park. At the beginning, I hated it because I had no friends. All I wanted was to go back home and leave the Brady Bunch County. My views changed when wintertime came. One night, I looked out my window and saw all the land covered in snow. The best part was when the moonlight hit the snow and it shined. It was that moment that I realized that what Montgomery lacked in tall buildings, it made up for with beautiful land. I started to accept the fact that Montgomery is my home.

Montgomery is the American dream to many other people who are immigrants. Montgomery is not perfect, but I think that the beauty of it is that it is real. It's the American dream that makes me love Montgomery, the dream of success and happiness in a land of great opportunity.

Moses Rodriguez, senior

Col. Zadok Magruder High School

A Melting Pot of Cultures, Viewpoints

I have seen Montgomery County from several points of view, being a parent, a federal employee and something of a social activist. This is an unusual place, a bedroom community for the government, and our population is amazingly diverse -- what country on Earth is not represented here? The beauty of the countryside needs to be mentioned. I live in Rockville, not far from Rock Creek, and walking in the woods is the most refreshing experience. It is not unusual to see rush-hour traffic stopped for a family of geese single-filing across the road. We have trees along the creek that have been gnawed by beavers, and you watch for the occasional red fox slinking through back yards, even a coyote now and then. Our county shimmers with life.

But, of course, the most impressive thing here is the people. Our group, TeachTheFacts.org, has been involved in a vibrant debate over community issues for several years, and it has been incredibly invigorating to hear from absolute strangers who want to contribute their time and knowledge to our effort. This is not a county of apathetic sleepyheads; people here are serious about decisions that affect all of us and reflect the timbre of life in our community. There may be disagreement and debate about what direction to take, but there is nothing like the somnambulistic acceptance of the status quo that you see in so many other places.

The word "diverse" barely begins to scratch the surface here. There are neighborhoods downcounty where you could believe you were in Central or South America, with bachata blasting from boomboxes and the smoky smell of pollo a la brasa settling over the sidewalk. Then you drive upcounty and you might as well be in Idaho or at least Kansas, with wide-open landscapes, conservative people and the warmth and the pace of rural America; loop back around to Potomac, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, where the rock stars, the athletes, the lobbyists and the congressmen live, and you're in another world altogether. We really do have every kind of people here.

The result is a casual and mature kind of tolerance that you rarely find anywhere. There are so many ways of life here that the phrase starts to lose its meaning. Friends and neighbors adapt to one another's ways without judging. People look for the goodness in one another and respond to that. It adds up to a county scintillating with energy, a prosperous place where some of the world's greatest scientific breakthroughs are routinely made, where the nation's and the world's leaders rest their heads at night, where cultures interact to produce a new thing -- an integrated, high-energy, peaceful approach to living that makes better people of all of us. Call it the Montgomery County way of life.

Jim Kennedy

Rockville

A Distinctive African American History

About 32 years ago, my son asked the question, "What is slavery?" In an attempt to answer, many more questions came to mind, such as how many other classmates would be asking the same question? In responding to the question, a community program was developed around the theme "The Birth of a People" in the historic community of Lincoln Park, my home town. Later, the Lincoln Park Historical Society was formed; today, it is best known as the Lincoln Park Historical Foundation.

A project on "Tracking the Footprints of African Americans" in the county was developed. From this project, a traveling exhibit and mobile educational workshop was produced and served as a way to conduct research on the history and experience of blacks and historically black communities in Montgomery County. It was discovered that black students throughout the county had to attend junior high, high school or junior college in Lincoln Park.

After the exhibit traveled throughout Montgomery, discovering its beauty in historically black communities, it became clear that a map should be developed so others could enjoy them, too. In 2001, a Montgomery County African American Historical Map was published; in 2003 "African American Heritage: A Journey Through History -- A Guide to African American Sites and Attractions" was published. Both publications helped preserve the history of the communities.

An opportunity presented itself to bring the history of my home town in Montgomery alive when the Leroy E. Neal African American Research Center was formed. The historical collection at the center reflects Lincoln Park's African American experiences, accomplishments and contributions through a repository of artifacts, publications, digital files and photographs.

Where we live, work, play or go to school is special, and it is important to share our hometown stories with others.

Anita Neal Powell

Rockville

Powell is the founder of the Leroy E. Neal African American Research Center.

Good Schools
An Edge With College Admissions

As a senior in high school, I feel as though I have an advantage in the college application process because of where I live. Coming from a Montgomery County public school, I know that I have gotten a quality education and obtained the tools that I need to do well in college. Montgomery truly values education and understands the importance of every student getting the best education she can.

There are all kinds of programs to help students succeed, regardless of any mental or physical disabilities they might have. The Home and Hospital Teaching program for chronically ill students, English for Speakers of Other Languages, special education programs and facilities for disabled students are all examples of how the school system ensures an education for everyone. I have benefited from Home and Hospital Teaching after having Lyme disease diagnosed. Had this program not been available, I do not know if I would have been able to truly perform at my full potential simply because I was sick.

Montgomery is such a remarkable place to live. The school system has not only helped me become an intelligent young woman, but with its high reputation, makes me feel confident about my college application process. I love living in Montgomery and cannot thank its school system enough for all it has done for me.

Liz Ugolini, senior

Magruder High School

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