The playground at Seventh and P streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood was once a dilapidated, glass-strewn lot unfit for child's play.
Then the D.C. Jaycees descended on the playground one recent Saturday, bringing with them rakes, brooms and numerous gallons of paint and brushes.
As soon as the paintbrushes and rakes were put away, children climbed on the swings, slides and seesaws.
"It's clean," one enthusiastic youngster concluded after carefully examining the freshly painted zebra on the merry-go-round.
Before the cleanup, the condition of the John F. Kennedy playground was similar to that of other playgrounds in the District -- littered with shards of glass, filled with faulty equipment and more recently plagued by increased nighttime drug activity.
Efforts have been made to improve conditions at city playgrounds, with residents in some areas forming neighborhood advisory groups to combat drug activity and decay of the facilities.
City officials say that the city's efforts to keep playgrounds fit for children have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of accidents at playgrounds and recreation centers.
"This is one of the better maintained cities in the country, and internationally," said Marilyn Perritt, director of the city's recreation centers and playgrounds.
Accidents at the city's playgrounds have been cut from 148 last year to 34 so far this year.
But recent spot checks of 48 of the 103 playgrounds operated by the city have shown that broken bottles, faulty equipment and ragged playing fields continue to mar city facilities in Southeast and Northeast.
Increased drug trafficking at night is contributing to the unsafe conditions at several of the District's playgrounds, according to city officials and community leaders who say shattered wine and beer bottles are often found in sandboxes and playpens. The problem can be solved only with the cooperation of the city and residents, officials say.
"We can't expect the government to solve the problem for us," said Raymond Dickey, advisory neighborhood commissioner in Northeast Ward 5. "It is our problem."
It is estimated that the playgrounds operated by the city's Department of Recreation, which has an annual budget of $32 million, will be visited by more than 110,000 youths this month, a peak period before school starts in September.
Perritt attributed the decrease in the number of accidents on District playgrounds to a renewed emphasis on safety since last year. "Accidents have been minimal, but we are not accident-free," Perritt said. "We would like a zero in the number of accidents."
According to Perritt, department staffers inspect the facilities daily and more than 500 members of the city's Summer Youth Employment Program have gone to each playground, picking up litter.
But an informal survey of the 48 playgrounds indicated that many facilities, except for most of the playgrounds in Northwest, were still marred by broken bottles, playing fields with ditches and faulty play equipment, although the equipment in many cases was freshly painted with bright colors.
The survey focused on facilities operated by the city's Recreation Department listed as playgrounds or recreation centers, and not on school playgrounds that are operated either solely by the D.C. schools or with the Recreation Department.
At Fort Davis Recreation Center near the Anacostia neighborhood, for example, wood benches were splintered, seats on swings were cracked and broken glass covered much of the sandy play areas.
Perritt said that the department was very concerned about the safety of children who use playgrounds, but that the agency has had to use "longstanding equipment."
After hitting a budgetary low of $6 million in 1982 after years of cutbacks, the playgrounds budget has increased steadily to $8.81 million this year, according to the Recreation Department's budget office.
For the first time, the city is drafting a five-year plan for recreation centers and playgrounds to "improve the facilities," Perritt said. The plan is expected to be unveiled in six months.
But even with encouraging accident statistics and signs of improvement in the recreation system, Perritt said, the city fights a tough battle with drug trafficking on playgrounds.
"We are very concerned about drug trafficking," Perritt said. "It is not normal during the day when children are around to have such activity. It usually occurs late at night and on the fringes of the parks."
At Ridge Recreation Center on Ridge Road and Burns Street SE, an enclave near drug-plagued housing projects, children play during the day in what many residents say is one of the best-kept facilities in the city.
But Carleen Latney, who takes her two toddlers to the playground daily, fears what drug trafficking could do to the facility. "We just hope and pray drugs don't get into this neighborhood," she said.
Latney and many parents in city neighborhoods seem to be fighting a losing battle, however. In almost every Advisory Neighborhood Commission district in Northeast and Southeast, at least one playground acts as the neighborhood's drug market.
In Ward 7, Fort Davis and Randle Highlands recreation centers have been known as areas of drug activity. But recently, another playground in the area, Hillcrest, became grounds for the same activity. "For the first time, we had complaints from parents about drug activity there," said Delores Simmons, a staff member of the ANC.
In Southwest, residents took playground safety into their own hands and formed a neighborhood recreation advisory group.
In June, a delegation of residents inspected King-Greenleaf Recreation Center, 201 N St. SW, and made several recommendations to the city's Recreation Department and the ANC for improvements.
In response to the group's findings, the ANC office director said, the recreation center will get a new glass vacuum cleaner to rid the playground of broken wine and beer bottles. In addition, the Recreation Department is scheduled to patch up potholes in the field and fix field lights that have been out for two years.
"I formed the group after I and other parents sat down to figure out how we could upgrade the playgrounds for young people, so they won't have to turn to drugs for fun," said Leon Fields, a former ANC commissioner and a Southwest resident for 57 years. "It was getting pretty dangerous out there."
Community service organizations also have begun to pitch in to help combat playground decay resulting from drug trafficking, and apathy in some neighborhoods about conditions.
A couple of weeks ago, about 75 Jaycees -- young professionals who involve themselves in various community services -- changed the dilapidated John F. Kennedy playground into a wonderland.
Minutes after the playground was cleaned up, it filled with neighborhood children, some riding and sliding down an assortment of brightly painted equipment, and others running around and playing tag in the meticulously raked play areas among the trees.