Parks and Recreation - September 2010 - (Page 43)
neighborhoods grew around the park area over the next century. From the 1930s into the 1970s, Watts Branch Park experienced varying levels of development under the National Park Service. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson rededicated an eight-acre tract in 1966 as part of her Capital Beautification campaign of what was originally called Watts Branch Park. The park was maintained and used regularly until the early 1970s, when federal funding for maintenance was discontinued and management transferred to the District of Columbia. After a new series of park and trail developments, city maintenance funds dried up and the park fell into disrepair. For the past quarter century, Watts Branch Park became a hub of illegal dumping and crime activity—to the extent that an open-air heroin market thrived, leading to the park’s nickname, “Needle Park,” by local residents. Life-long area resident Juanita Fairchild, 66, remembers playing in the park as a child in the 1950s and catching tadpoles with her brothers. But after the park deteriorated, Fairchild and her family avoided the park altogether. “It was a drug haven,” Fairchild says. “You didn’t come down here much.” Thirty-four-year-old Deidre Gantt, whose family has lived in the area for 100 years, remembers as a child being too scared to walk through the park. Instead, she opted to go around the park on her way to church or to visit family. “There was a lot of drug activity and a lot of trash,” Gantt recalls. “You just didn’t feel safe.”
The neighborhoods surrounding Marvin Gaye Park are home to more than 600 families—and the city’s second-highest concentration of children. In 1997,
the nonprofit Washington Parks & People decided to put its belief in the transformative power of parks to work in Marvin Gaye. With input and help from the surrounding community, WPP circulated a petition that amassed 2,500 signatures calling upon the District of Columbia to restore Marvin Gaye Park and Watts Branch Stream. The city responded to the call, and for the next decade, WPP and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation implemented what would become a multi-million dollar, multi-phased project, and the largest community park revitalization in D.C. history. In 2001, the partners led a five-year cleanup effort, in which 24,000 volunteers removed more than 3.5 million pounds of trash, 9,000 hypodermic needles, and 78 abandoned cars. More than 1,000 native trees were planted, and in 2008, the city closed a nearby methadone clinic. The park was renamed April 2, 2006, after music legend and local childhood resident Marvin Gaye on what would have been the singer’s 67th birthday. WPP President Steve Coleman credits the local community with the park’s transformation. “We tend to think in very constrained ways about how we don’t have enough resources,” Coleman says. “But if you look to the community, the possibilities are endless.” WPP first made sure residents had opportunities to advance their community. WPP initiatives included a youth job training program, a youth-run farmer’s market, creation of a permanent mosaic honoring 200 community heroes, an amphitheater, and 1.6 miles of new hiking and biking trails. Coleman believes that just as communities can leverage resources and buy-in to help revitalize parks, parks are, in turn, a great investment for communities.
One year after its opening, the playground at Marvin Gaye Park remains clean, green, and much used by the surrounding community.
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