Casey Anderson was tired of hearing people in Montgomery County, Md., complain that there aren’t enough parks. He chairs the county’s Planning Board and oversees the Parks Department, so it’s something he takes personally.
But it is one thing to throw out a number. It’s another thing to know what that number represents. That’s why Anderson has challenged himself to visit every Montgomery County park in 2018.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever done that,” he said. “Nobody I’ve met has claimed to have visited them all, even people who’ve worked in the Parks Department for many years.”
Anderson was already behind when I met him one afternoon this week at General Getty Park off Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. To visit 421 parks in one year means averaging eight parks a week. Ideally, he would have visited about 100 by now. He was somewhere around 80.
Anderson wasn’t worried.
“I did 17 in one day once,” he said.
Anderson cast his eye around General Getty Park, named for a Civil War Union general who had a farm in the area.
“This has a pretty good mix,” he said, taking in the tennis courts, playground equipment and pretty plantings, including a red bud tree abloom.
“I’m not sure how heavily used that gazebo is,” he said, nodding toward a little roofed shelter that looked cute but probably wasn’t all that practical.
Anderson walked to one of those familiar brown signs — “General Getty Park” incised in wood and painted white — and had Miti Figueredo, his senior adviser, snap a photo. She occasionally accompanies Anderson on his forays, documenting them for social media. The hashtag: #421parks.
Next up was Forest Grove Park, a mere half a mile away. A young man was shooting baskets on the basketball court. A mother and her children were on a seesaw on the playground, probably wondering why two grown men — Anderson and I — were loitering near the swing set.
Up toward Wheaton was Evans Parkway Park. Georgia Avenue’s busy traffic thrummed at one end of the park while, at the other, birds flitted in the trees along a streambed.
Near the playground was an odd arrangement of low fencing that looked like the chute cowboys send cattle down to brand them.
“I’m not sure why they did that,” Anderson said, making a mental note to ask someone back at the office.
Montgomery has 37,000 acres of parks, from small urban parks to the 3,500-acre Little Bennett Regional Park past Clarksburg.
“In Little Bennett, you can rent a yurt and go camping like you’re a Mongolian,” Anderson said. “A lot of people don’t realize you can camp in Cabin John!”
We went to Carroll Knolls Park (grass, trees and not much else), McKenney Hills Park (a bare spot on the soccer field, prompting Anderson to confess an obsession with turf management) and Forest Glen Park (Anderson hung off a plastic faux mountain near the sliding board).
Research shows that there are health and psychological benefits to being outside, Anderson said. But too often we get in our little silos, familiar only with what we see from our cars as we drive to work or the store. We may not know a park is nearby.
“Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to show people all the great things that are available,” he said.
I asked Anderson what pleasant surprises he has encountered on his travels.
“There’s a park called Twinponds Conservation Area up in the Colesville area,” he said. The day he went, the water was frozen and geese were sitting on the ice — “just chilling, literally. Even though there are houses all around the park, it felt like you were out in nature. It’s not a big park. It doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure or amenities. It’s just very beautiful. It has a very nice pond.”
Wait. Pond? Not two ponds in Twinponds park?
“You’d think it would have two ponds,” Anderson said. “I only saw one pond. It was a very nice pond, though.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.