Eight or so years ago, officials within the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission decided to stop mowing 20 percent of Rock Creek parkland. The condition of the park today, together with how it is being used, prove that this decision was ill-advised from many points of view -- esthetic, environmental, economic and philosophic. Furthermore, it is singularly unfair to continue to penalize citizens who allow their property to become an overgrown public nuisance while arguing that the purposes of the weed ordinance do not apply to parkland.
First, the esthetic consequences. Failure to provide at least minimum maintenance for many portions of the park has allowed its natural beauty and value to be crowded out by biological species that are less attractive but are better able to exploit the effects caused by more and more people needing park facilities. In no way can walnut, sycamore, beech or oak trees compete with the weed trees that flourish in unmowed areas. An almost impenetrable maze of wild grape and honeysuckle vines is crowding out the bloodroot, jack-in-the-pulpit, dogtoothviolet and similar natural speciesfor which the park has been much appreciated.
Even more serious changes in plant and animal populations result from abuse of the natural resources within the park. Ragweeds are so lush in many areas that the pollen they shed makes life miserable for countless people. Rampant poison ivy vines pose an additional health threat. Mosquitos and gnats multiply so rapidly in weed-choked streams, pools and puddles that few people dare visit large sections of the park or even use patios and lawns for outdoor entertaining. As the the park becomes almost unfit for human use, proliferating populations of garbage-scattering crows and disease-carrying raccoons pester and threaten the park's neighbors.
Economically, failure to mow 20 percent of the park has resulted in the loss of a much larger portion of parkland. In some areas, people can use only a very narrow strip of land along the bike trail with up to 90 percent of the adjacent area being terribly uninviting. In 1985 alone, the commission spent $1,006,400 for 175.7 acres of parkland. It isn't an entirely wild guess that lack of reasonable maintenance took out of service an even larger area in only that portion of the park between the District line and Connecticut Avenue.
Although most difficult to document, the philosophical damages resulting from the loss of attractive, well-kept surroundings may well be the most serious threat to park users. Few people are willing to identify the causes of neighborhood blight or changes in the quality of life maintained by a community's residents. But it takes no great stretch of the imagination to sense that there are cause-effect relationships between the quality of the environment where people live and how people feel about themselves and their neighbors. It is equally probable that how we feel about our governmental agencies is influenced sharply by the results of their decisions.
Wouldn't it be great to know that by the 1990s, the Maryland portion of Rock Creek Park will be in even better condition than it was in the '60s and '70s?
John H. Woodburn