Full Funding for Parks

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 11:55pm

Tonight, I testified before the County Council to support full funding for the Parks Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The County Budget hearings are underway and the County Executive's proposed budget calls for a $28 million below what the Parks Planning Board deemed necessary.  In fact, the County Executive’s recommended funding for parks is $12 million, or 7% less than approved two years ago in the prior CIP.  This recommended funding level takes the park system backward, not forward.

Funding was significantly cut for life cycle replacement of park amenities such as playgrounds and tennis courts, renovation and expansion of the trail network, athletic field improvements, restoration of historic structures, stream protection, pollution prevention, parkland acquisition, and the provision of new amenities in parks to meet emerging needs of our growing county. 

Additionally, entire projects were eliminated including Wall Park which would provide a needed urban park in White Flint, Ovid Hazen Wells which would provide a new recreational park in Clarksburg, and the Little Bennet Regional Park Trail Connector.

The Planning Board requested that the Council restore the entire $28 million as it believes its requested funding level is necessary to maintain our great park system and move it forward to meet the needs of the future.

You can support the Parks budget need by letting the County Council know that Parks are important to you and requesting full funding of the Parks CIP. Email the Council at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

The Little Falls Watershed Alliance's Testimony is below.

Sarah Morse
Executive Director, Little Falls Watershed Alliance
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Montgomery County Council hearing on FY17 Capital Budget and FY17-22 CIP
I’m Sarah Morse, the Executive Director of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, an environmental stewardship group for the Little Falls creek and watershed.  I’m here to advocate for the Park budget. 
In 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson started Earth Day, a day of environmental activism as recognition that humans have an obligation to be stewards of the planet.  Today, Montgomery County, along with 190 countries, celebrates this holiday by raising awareness of environmental issues.
The Park system in Montgomery County is an essential part of our stewardship to the environment. As the county gets more and more developed, as trees and meadows give way to commercial and residential units, the parks become more and more important as the last green areas.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has won an unprecedented 6th National Gold Medal Award from the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) for excellence in Parks and Recreation. This award can only be earned every 5 years – so this means, 30 years of Park excellence.
With all this in mind, the little Falls Watershed Alliance requests that the Council fully fund the Parks moving forward and restore the entire $28 million to their budget.  We need the Parks and we need them to be fully funded.
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance has a close partnership with Parks and we have seen how they get a lot of bang-for-the-buck from community volunteer efforts. We work with Meghan Fellows and Carole Bergmann on the Weed Warriors Program hosting almost weekly events to restore native plants.  These two remarkable Park employees have developed a nationally recognized program that utilizes thousands of volunteers to combat non-native invasives. Volunteers in their program spent over 5,700 hours last year on behalf of the Parks – the equivalent of almost 3 full time employees. Almost 80,000 volunteer hours have been logged since the program began in 1999.  Yet, the Weed Warrior program is just staffed part-time, with 1.25 employees. Think of what could be leveraged if the staffing was doubled.  Think of what a loss it would be if this program was cut due to budget concerns.
The Park is already operating on a lean budget. The trails in the Little Falls Stream Valley Park are in terrible shape. They are buckling, sinking and crumbling.  Because we are located in a densely urban area, the park is well used by mothers pushing strollers, children playing in the creek, dog walkers, joggers, bird watchers and a surprising number of elderly residents out for fresh air. The Park is an important part of our lives.  But when we ask for trail renovation, we are told that there isn’t the money for it at this time. In partnership with the Weed Warriors Program, we have restored a meadow in Norwood Park. Native wildflowers grow where there was once a wasteland of dead trees and vines, but when we inquired about doing another meadow, the same response - no budget for it. 
Money is also needed for stormwater management in the Little Falls Stream Valley Park. Every time it rains, we have considerable flooding making the trails impassible to anyone who is not able to wade through two or three inches of water.  Again, when we ask for this – we are told that there isn’t money at this time.
To cut the Park budget means that these and other projects will not come to fruition. To cut the budget means that the infrastructures will suffer - not only park amenities like playgrounds and tennis courts, but projects like stream protection and pollution prevention that are key to our stewardship of the environment.   We cannot expect to continue to have a nationally recognized park system without the budget to maintain it.  We cannot meet our obligation to the environment that the County celebrates every Earth Day without the budget to maintain our Parks.
Montgomery County has long been a leader in environmental stewardship with one of the strongest stormwater management permits in the Country, the best park system in the Country. Please help us maintain our standard of excellent and fully fund the Park.