June 1, 2018
Montgomery Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson is well on his way to reaching his 2018 goal of visiting all 421 Montgomery Parks! He recently took time out of his busy day to provide an update on his progress and share what he’s discovered along the way.
Q: Let’s start off with you explaining the 421 Parks Challenge. Why do you want to visit all 421 Montgomery Parks this year?
A: I thought it would be a good exercise to just see what the parks are like in every part of the County. Looking at a map, one can see that there are parks all over the place. I definitely have confirmed that we have great parks everywhere and they meet a pretty high standard of quality. And there are all kinds of different parks. It’s great to see how our parks serve recreational purposes, give people a chance to get out in nature, and provide opportunities for people to get together and socialize. Among all of the different things that parks do, I think we do them very well as a system overall – no matter where you live in the County.
Q: What kind of feedback and support have you been getting from the community for the 421 Parks Challenge?
A: It’s really more successful than I’d even hoped at raising the profile of some of these parks. I’ve been surprised by how many people are following it on social media. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and someone will walk up to me and say, “Hey, you need to catch up. Don’t you need to be out in a park right now?”
I went to a bike shop recently. I had met the owner a couple times, but hadn’t seen him in over a year. I happened to walk into his bike shop and the first thing that he said to me was, “What park are you on?”
It’s funny to see that reaction. I think it shows that it’s having the intended effect. It’s getting people to pay attention to the parks. Some people comment on Facebook or when I run into them face-to-face, they’ll ask me questions about specific parks and say things like, “I didn’t realize we had a tennis court so close by”, or “I didn’t realize that park was even there”, or “What’s the history of that park?”
Q: Which park has been the most memorable to you?
A: I think an example of a park that was really surprising—and in a good way—was Wheaton-Claridge Local Park which was just renovated. I think the park staff did a great job in renovating that park. I think that park is sort of a sleeper. It’s just off Veirs Mill Road, between Wheaton and Rockville. It’s really an amazingly beautiful park. I especially like the stream channel. It was constructed out of large rocks and stones. It creates a really interesting water feature that runs through the park. And the renovation that’s happened – there’s a new playground, a new basketball court, new trails. I think it’s really great to stumble upon a park like that. It shows that even in places that are a little out of the way, or aren’t the center of activity, that we have some really amazing places for people to go.
Q: It sounds like you’re really exploring these locations. How do you approach your park visits?
A: I do try to explore the areas when I visit parks. I like to make sure the equipment is in good condition. I check for indicators that the park is well used. And I make sure there are no problems with trash or graffiti. Although I don’t always feel like I need to do a close inspection. There are a lot of neighborhood parks that have a pretty standard assortment of playground equipment—maybe a basketball court or a tennis court—and generally those are pretty quick visits.
When I see a new or unique feature in the parks, I take the time to check it out. I’ll even try out the playground equipment or take a walk down the trail and see where it leads and just use it as an opportunity to get to know the neighborhood.
When the weather is good, I see a lot of people out in the parks. I like to speak with people, and sometimes I ask if I can take their picture in order to show how people are using the parks. One day, I saw a couple that was on the trail along Beach Drive and they were roller skiing. They had skis with rollers on them, like rollerblades. It’s pretty cool to see that sometimes people are doing activities that you hadn’t thought of. It’s wonderful because we all have our own way of enjoying the parks.
Q: You often invite people to visit Parks with you. Why is it important for people to join you?
A: I think it’s a chance for people who live in the area where the park is located to show me what they like about the park or what some of the issues are. They bring things to my attention and I try to pass that along to the park staff to see what we can do to fix a problem or figure out a plan to resolve an issue.
Also, part of the point of this whole tour is to market the parks. For example, I went to visit some parks with David Moon, who is a friend and happens to be a state delegate. He’s got a large Facebook and Twitter following, so when he posted a picture of the two of us visiting Takoma-Piney Branch Local Park which is in his legislative district, hopefully that got some people to think about visiting a park they hadn’t seen before.
My son and I like to ride our bikes around just for fun. He’s very accommodating when taking some of these park excursions with me. Some people find the park visits more entertaining than others. I generally find that most people, if I ask them to join me, will do at least 1 or 2 park visits with me. Not everyone has the appetite to do 15 or 20 in one day, but that’s okay. I’ll do as many as they’ll put up with.
Q: Have you discovered anything new or surprising during your park visits?
A: Thus far, the most surprising park I visited is Rock Run Stream Valley Park, which is in the southwest part of the county in Potomac, MD. It’s 140 acres of parkland in an area with very steep slopes leading into the stream valley. What’s surprising is that there’s really no public access. There is a thin strip of land that connects one of the residential neighborhood streets in the area to the park. But it’s a very steep hill and there is no signage. It’s basically just 20 or 30 feet of land that M-NCPPC owns between two houses. Other than that, there’s no real access point for the park. That’s one of the things I’m trying to do is be on the lookout for things that we can improve. And in cases like that, where we can find ways to make these parks more usable and accessible for the public.
Q: How many Montgomery Parks have you visited thus far and what’s your strategy for getting to all 421 by the end of the year?
A: I’ve visited 112. Looking at the map, you can assume I have to do more than one a day. I’m a little bit behind but I think that part of that is because the weather has not been cooperating for the first few months of the year. That really limited how many parks I could do. But I feel like I’m actually pretty close to being on track. I think this summer, I’m really going to try to hit a lot of them. I have a spreadsheet that has the address information for every park. I sort that by zip code and then I feed that into Mapquest. It has a route optimization feature so I can figure out the most efficient way to travel to all of those addresses. That helps me visit as many as possible in the time that I have. I feel pretty good about where I am. I think I’m going to get there. But I’m sure that in December, I’m still going to be hustling.
For updates and photos from Casey Anderson’s quest to visit all 421 Montgomery Parks, check out the 421 Park Resolution webpage. You can also follow Casey’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.