Testimony in Favor of Full Funding for Montgomery Parks

Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 9:33pm

Montgomery County is in the middle of budget hearings for FY 19 Operating budgets.  Our Executive Director, Sarah Morse, presented to following in support of fully funding Montgomery Parks both for operating budget for FY 19 and for Capital Improvement Projects for FY 19-24.  The Council is still taking comments.  Send your thoughts to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Sarah Morse
Executive Director, Little Falls Watershed Alliance

Thursday, April 12, 2017
Montgomery County Council hearing on FY19 Operating Budget 
and amendments to the FY 19-24 CIP
I’m Sarah Morse, the Executive Director of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, an environmental stewardship group for Little Falls Branch, the Willett Branch and surrounding area.  We are  located in lower Montgomery County in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area.  We have over 2,000 members and work closely with the community on projects and issues affecting the natural areas in our neighborhood.  We are lucky to have many parks in our watershed;  the largest is the Little Falls Stream Valley Park with four miles of trails, and also there is the Capital Crescent Trail which cuts through the watershed.  
I’m here to advocate for the Park budget.  The County Executive’s proposed operating  budget is $5 million less than the Planning Board deemed necessary to support our extraordinary park system.  And the recommended Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget falls $26 million less than the Parks’ request. 
It’s especially significant that these hearings are in April as the County is getting ready to celebrate Earth Day,  a day of environmental activism where we recognize the obligation that humans have to be stewards of the planet.  The park system in Montgomery County is an essential part of our stewardship to the environment.  As the County becomes more and more developed, as trees and meadows give way to commercial and residential units, these parks become more and more important as the last green areas. 
While the environmental obligation is compelling in itself, there are also economic and health benefits from having a robust park system.  Many studies show that housing prices rise the closer a property is to a park – some studies say properties are as much as 70% more expensive if they are located park-side.  Mental and physical health improve from park use.  More and more doctors are touting the mental health advantages of simply walking in the woods.  In Japan  “forest bathing” is a  part of its national health program.  And of course, everyone recognizes the benefits that a daily run or walk on park trails brings.  Healthier citizens are also an economic plus for the County.
With all this in mind, the little Falls Watershed Alliance requests that the Council fully fund Montgomery Parks moving forward and restore the entire $5 million to their operating budget for FY19,  as well as fully fund their Capital Improvement Program budget for FY19-24.  We need  parks and we need them to be fully funded.  
The Little Falls Watershed Alliance has a close partnership with Montgomery Parks and we have seen how they get a lot of bang-for-the-buck from community volunteer efforts.  We work with Tenley Wurglitz 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 that are killing our native trees and plants.  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 100,000 volunteer hours have been logged since the program began in 1999.  Yet, the Weed Warrior program is just staffed part-time, with 2.25 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.

Parks  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, our 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 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.  Where storm drains flow unchecked onto park land, huge canyons are forming sending silt downstream into the creek.  Again, when we ask for retrofits to mitigate these issues – we are told that there isn’t money at this time.
To cut the Park operating 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.  And we cannot expect to reap the economic benefits that the County realizes from properties located park-side if the parks are allowed to fall into disrepair. 
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.  Our quality of life is second to none and the County is one of the most desirable places in the Country to live.  Help us maintain this standard of excellent and fully fund the Park.