Three weeks ago nearly 200 residents and a City Council member gathered in a small lot in Southeast Washington to dedicate the city's first park specifically designed for senior citizens. It was about the last time the park was used.
Community leaders, who spent more than $600 for the dedication festivities, which included a parade and barbecue, attribute the lack of use to a lack of knowledge of the park's existence.
Since the opening, neighbors living nearby say the park is usually empty. A visitor, who went to the park four times last week, found no one during any of the visits.
The park, formed out of a vacant lot between two houses, is located on Frankford Street SE, a short street, in a small neighborhood just north of Suitland Parkway and a mile east of downtown historic Anacostia. It is easily accessible only to those within walking distance.
"Some of the people who live just a block away from the park said they didn't know about it," said Thomasina Francis, a member of the Fort Stanton Park Civic Association and the Anacostia Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the two groups that created the park.
"I think senior citizens just don't know about the park yet," said Concha Johnson, executive director of the Senior Citizens' Counseling and Delivery Service at 2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.
"I haven't posted any information about it yet," Johnson said. "I kind of wanted to sponsor a little activity there for them [senior citizens], that's really how you kick it off." Johnson said she plans to arrange transportation to the park for seniors who live in Anacostia.
E. Veronica Pace, director of the city's office on aging, is pleased with the park and thinks it will take time for seniors to discover it.
"So often parks are developed to attract children or young people . . . and so often senior citizens try to avoid those areas because kids are far more active" than senior citizens, Pace said.
More parks in the District should set aside special areas for less active senior citizens and handicapped people, she added. "Everyone always needs to take time to smell the roses and enjoy a tranquil setting of a park."
The park was created because "most of the people out here are homeowners and have been here since World War II," said Ann King, immediate past president of the Fort Stanton Park Civic Association. "Most of us are senior citizens or nearing that age and we just thought it would just be nice to have a park for senior citizens," she said.
The park is located in Ward 8, which has 860 to 1,000 residents who are 60 or older, or about 27 percent of the population, according to Johnson.
Seventh District Police and nearby residents agreed to keep an eye on the one-fifth acre park so the senior citizens would feel safe to enjoy the small garden, picnic tables and three outdoor grills.
The park land was given to the civic association in 1983 by the Hessick Investment Corp., a construction company that has built houses in Anacostia, King said. The developers gave away the land because it was not suitable for building, she said.
The city's departments of Housing and Community Development and Public Works cleared the lot, overgrown with weeds, and landscaped it. The city, the civic association and the Anacostia Advisory Neighborhood Commission donated funds to pay for shrubs, trees, picnic tables, grills and new sidewalks. Community leaders said they plan to spend more money on free cook-outs and transportation to publicize the new park. " . . . We [the civic association and the ANC] are planning to do is to have a big picnic sometime this summer and invite all the senior citizens who live near the park," Francis said.