Growing up in Northeast D.C., Ashley Howard wasn’t allowed to play in her neighborhood park, where broken beer bottles and discarded needles littered the ground.
Now 23 and the mother of 4- and 8-year-old sons, Howard feels differently about the park. On Tuesday morning, she planted herbs on her hands and knees as officials opened Planters Grove, a new 5,000-square-foot park along Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue — not far from the forbidden spaces of her childhood.
“It’s not going to be hard to get people to come to the park,” Howard said. “I’m going to make sure my sons aren’t hanging out on Minnesota [Avenue], on the streets like I did.”
Residents of the northern area of Ward 7 welcomed the new park, the latest development project in a decade of efforts to revitalize the area.
“We all remember the days this was called ‘Needle Park,’” said D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray during an opening ceremony Tuesday. “We have changed that.”
The snack food company Planters teamed with The Corps Network, a group that mobilizes community volunteers nationwide, to build a peanut-shaped park near the intersection of Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and 50th Street NE. Over two weeks, volunteers mixed concrete, planted fruit trees and azaleas and lined the park with old porch columns as a nod to the neighborhood’s “front porch” culture.
It took more than a decade of volunteer work before Kenneth Sullivan started seeing a difference in his neighborhood. Sullivan, 59, grew up near the park and planted trees there Tuesday.
“It wasn’t safe to walk there, even during the day,” Sullivan said. “There is still drug activity in the late evenings or at night, but nowhere near as active as before.”
In the last 10 years, said Sullivan, “There’s been a 100-percent change in the area. We don’t have to be as nervous.”
Over the past decade, thousands of volunteers led by Washington Parks and People, a group that leads green initiatives across the District, have pulled more than 2.5 million pounds of trash, 6,000 hypodermic needles and 78 abandoned cars from the 1.6-mile stretch of open space that encompasses Marvin Gaye Park, Planters Grove and other areas, according to board member Steve Coleman.
The “open air” heroin market has been replaced with a weekly youth-run farmers market, Coleman said.
“It’s an amazing improvement,” said Tyrone Hodges, 46, who used to play in the creek that runs along the park. It’s nice to see that people are reinvesting in youths.”
The project falls under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which encourages community-led conservation projects that increase access to green spaces in urban areas.
“Community-led efforts are really how we can improve access to open spaces,” said Nancy Sutley, Chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality on Tuesday.