With more than 70,000 acres of recreation and park lands in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, area residents have almost three times the parkland and more than 10 times the recreational facilities they had 15 years ago.
But tight budgets this year will mean noticeable cutbacks in summer park programs in both counties, including less mowing and maintenance of parkland and reduced community center and sports programs.
In addition, Price George's virtually has stopped buying any new parkland or open space and funds to develop existing parks and recreation areas have been cut in half.The Montgomery County Council is taking almost the opposite tack, by continuing to acquire parkland, before it is turned into housing subdivisions and shopping centers, while putting off the development of some of its existing parks.
The Prince George's Council has frozen more than $1 million in previously-funded park acquisitions, including purchase of the privately-owned Prince George's Country Club, which was to have become a major golf course and recreation area for the county. Frozen, too, were funds for a regional skating rink and numerous stream valley parks. The Council also postponed indefinitely or killed $2 million worth of development in existing parks, representing half of the funds previously appropriated for park development. The money is expected to be diverted to paying off county bond issues.
The acquisition of almost all historic properties in Prince George's also has been ended, including the planned purchase of Melford Manor near Bowie and the Indian Queen, Tavern, the 1732 Bladensburg inn frequented by George Washington.
An even more extensive freeze on more than 100 parks and recreation projects was announced in Prince George's in January, but the Council last week "unfroze" money to develop 47 projects already begun, including the large Glassmanor Recreation Center to open next spring in the Eastover area. Also included is the reconstruction of Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, the county arts center that was destroyed by fire.
No Prince George's County funds will be used next year to buy parkland, although 80 acres will be added to the county's present 13,000 acres of parkland with state Open Spaces funds that annumery County has 20,000 acres of parkland and the County Council has just authorized $10.6 million to begin acquiring an additional 5,000 acres over the next six years.
The two suburban Maryland counties became the first Washington-area jurisdictions to begin buying large amounts of parkland and open space when they joined in 1927 to form the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Maryland and Virginia have few state parks near the Nation's Capital and Northern Virginia residents didn't form a comparable regional park authority before 1959.
Until the 1950s what parks there were around Washington - and almost all were in a relatively wild, undeveloped state - were the exclusive domains of the National Park Service and MNCPPC.
The Park Service is still the major park landholder here, with 22,800 acres in suburban Maryland, 24,200 in Northern Virginia and 6,800 in the District, but until the 1960s it did little but mow its extensive lawns. The Summer in the Parks program, now copied in cities across the nation, had yet to be invented and Washington boasted none of the magnificient floral displays that tourists and area residents now take for granted: the 600,000 tulips and daffodils that bloomed this spring and the 130,000 summer flowers Park Service gardeners are now planting.
The park boom here came first in the 1930s, when federal Capper-Cramton Act helped fund the George Washington Memorial Parkway and upper Rock Creek, Cabin John and mcuh of suburban Maryland's stram valley park system. T1960s, when suburban Maryland's stram valley park system. T1960s, when suburban officials panicked as bulldozers began turning their farms and fields into subdivisions, shopping centers, office and industrial complexes.
In 1957 Montgomery County had about 3,000 acres of parkland and Prince George's just over 1,000 - pretty much what they had in the 1930s - but this doubled in four years and then grew geometrically until 1972 when federal revenue sharing ended federal open-space funds and gave states, counties and cities lump sum funds to do with as they pleased. "Most (governments) did not buy parkland ... and 1972-75 was our dry period," says Montgomery County's director of parks, Stanton G. Ernst.
The park systems are funded separately, and unevenly, in Montgomery and Prince George's because Montgomery has levied a MNCPPC tax to buy and develop parkland since 1927 and Prince George's didn't begin until 1939, then cancelled it during World War II. It was reinstated in 1945.
Both counties' budgets have been pinched the past two years because of inflation, and Montgomery's 20 per cent cutback in park operating funds last year brought us complaints, because residents have come to expect a manicured appearance to their parks...it'll bs Ernst.
"We've also had to cut back drastically on development and opening of new parks," Ernst said, but the present County Council is concerned about parks and has not cut back on "what is really crucial...parkland acquisition."
Monrgomery's emphasis "in the past 4-5 years has been on acquisition for local parks .. We have 5 urban parks in Bethesda and Wheaton in various stages of development, but none opened yet, and in the future we're going to go back and catch up with purchase of stream valley park and, along Muddy Branch, Watts Branch, Northwest Branch and upper Rock Creek and other streams," says Myron Goldberg, chief of park and planning for the Montgomery division of MNCPPC.
The recommended acquisitions are part of the county's new Park, Recreation and Open Space master plan scheduled for public hearing June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the county park planning board headquarters, 8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. It recommends 61 new local parks in the county by 1985 (averaging 10 acres each), additional large regional parks, three more swimming pools (the county now has three), 138 assorted ball fields and an additional 149 tennis courts.
Among Montgomery's major acquisitions have been some 3,500 acres for Little Bennett Regional Park, near the Frederick County line, which is not yet open but ultimately is slated to become the county's largest park.
The future of what long has been planned as Prince George's largest park, Patuexent River Regional Park, is now in doubt both for want of funds and because of opposition of many residents who live or have summer places along the river, according to county park officials.
One reason the Prince George's County Council feels there is "no great need to buy parkland now is that state law prohibits development in stream valleys' flood plains," says Robert Arciprete, chief of the county's park and planning division, which is where most parks are located. "The thought is why buy it if no one can build in it."
Arciprete insists that "acreage alone doesn't tell everything about a county's park system . . . Montgomery is more interested in undeveloped parkland, maybe with tennis courts and hiker-biker trails, but our citizens are more interested in gyms, swimming pools, ice hockey rinks and so we have 21 major community centers with gyms and many activity rooms and I don't think Montgomery has any at all." Motgomery park officials say they have 49 recreation centers but all small and none contain gyms or similar facilities.
While the County Council has significantly cut back the planning commission's budget for next year - $2.5 million out of a requested $24 million - and lowered the county park tax rate for homeowners - 5 cents from the current 42-cents per $100 of assessed valuation - "We're putting more emphasis on development and Montgomery's putting more emphasis on acquisition," says Arciprete.
The state and National Park Service parks in the two counties are a mix of developed and undeveloped parkland.
Maryland's new Seneca Creek State Park, a 12-mile long stream valley park north of Gaithersburg, scheduled to open picnic areas and a 90-acre lake with boating facilities this July, is a generally passive park, as are the other two area state parks, Patuxent River near Montgomery's Howard County line and Cedarville Natural Resources Management Area along Prince George's Howard County line.
Some of the Park Service parks in Maryland are passive parks, but not Oxon Hill Farm, a working farm where animals bustle around to the delight of children, and Glen Echo, the former amusement park now an active arts center. Fort Washington, an historic site and the Washington area's most popular large picnic ground, Greenbelt Park with its extensive camp sites and the C & O Canal National Historial Park, which has many small parks within it such as Great Falls and Carderock, offer quieter activities.