”One park does not a story make,” protested John Stokes, the outstanding chief of staff and spokesman for the D.C. Department of Parks of Recreation.
To that, I counter that a well-established history of municipal neglect plus one park does indeed make a story, but because Stokes forwarded me a list of recent field upgrades and some pictures, I admit he might have a point.
Actually, the picture above depicts a great municipal triumph that would humble Boss Shepherd himself: A lush, verdant expanse of bermuda grass at Walter Pierce Park in Adams Morgan — on a field frequented by soccer players who had essentially turned the thing into a permanent Steinbeckian dust bowl.
Besides Walter Pierce, which has a new central irrigation system, DPR’s re-installed similar fields at Barry Farm Recreation Center and by its headquarters on 16th Street NW in Columbia Heights. Fields at Fort Stevens, Fort Reno, Hardy and Rudolph are having worn areas restored and given special care. Also four baseball diamonds are now getting regular attention — at Douglass Rec Center, Marvin Gaye Rec Center, Congress Heights and at the New York Avenue Playground.
There is now a citywide computerized tracking system for mowing and maintenance. DPR has established stricter limits on use of the turf fields, limiting “high intensity sports” to 30 hours per week.
The problem is that the Walter Pierce field is perfectly lush for a simple reason: It’s fenced off and no one is using it. It doesn’t open until March.
I fear that Walter Pierce might be headed down the same road as another recently reseeded and revamped field, at the federally run Meridian Hill Park, a few blocks away from Walter Pierce at 16th and Euclid streets NW. After a new drainage system was installed and the fields were reseeded and left to regrow behind fences, Meridian Hill was lush and lovely not so many months ago.
Today, they’re dust bowls again. Steve Coleman, the executive director of Washington Parks and People, which has advocated for improvements at Meridian Hill and other city parks, said the National Park Service is allowing contractors fixing the 16th Street retaining wall to park on the grass. A large patch of the northernmost field is now bare dirt.
So, forgive us, John, if we’re a little concerned that the new Walter Pierce turf might not survive much longer than previous plantings.
”They’re trying to do the right thing,” Coleman said. “This is the first time they’ve done it to this degree. And yet, it’s not just the investment, but the focus. You can’t keep a field looking like that unless you have rules, management and collaboration with the community.”
Coleman is concerned that a pending bureaucratic shuffle could impede that focus. The D.C. Council, at Mayor Vincent Gray’s behest, voted to create an “Office of General Services” that will, among many other things, take over maintenance of parklands. DPR will still program activities for those parklands.
”No one knows what that means or how it’s going to work,” coleman said.
Stokes tells me the planning process is well underway and that he expects the shift to improve upkeep, not detract from it. Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who until recently chaired the D.C. Council’s parks committee, acknowledged DPR’s has made strides in upkeep but said she’s optimistic about the shuffle.
”I do have some pause,” she said, “but I think there’s only room for improvement.”