Parks and Rec of College Park

By Alex Theriot
For Unwind magazine

NBC’s hit show “Parks and Recreation” made its final bow over a year ago, but real life departments of parks and recreation all over the United States — including the department in Prince George’s County — continue to provide services to their communities.

The Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation oversees just above 80,000 acres of land containing 591 parks, 229 playgrounds, 46 community centers, 11 aquatic centers and 100 miles of trails, all open to the public.

Beyond the county lines of Pawnee, Indiana, the Prince George’s department serves its Maryland community through its partnerships in neighboring areas, particularly with Good Neighbor Day in College Park.

Starting in 2010 with a partnership between the Parks and Recreation department and the University of Maryland’s Community Engagement Office, Good Neighbor Day has become an annual event in College Park where members from surrounding counties join students to tackle an existing problem or project useful to all members of the community.

“The event is held at the community center which is [the department’s], and [the department] usually identifies a project within the community for students and others to work on together,” public affairs and marketing division chief Anita Pesses said about the Parks and Recreation department’s role in sponsoring the event.

This year the office of community engagement plans to coordinate 250 to 350 volunteers, a third of whom are university students, to tackle a range of community cleaning projects, said Teresa Gardner-Williams, the department’s volunteer services and community partnerships manager.

Families, business groups and members of the community make up a large part of the volunteer base as well. Businesses often volunteer for leadership and team bonding exercises, Gardner-Williams said.

Good Neighbor Day is hosted by the department each April. Projects for the 2016 event include an invasive species and litter cleanup around the university’s Campus Creek Trail, Calvert Hill Frog Pond and Guilford Drive.

“The impact and one of the great things about the day is that you can immediately see the difference in what you do,” Gardner-Williams said. “When you [eliminate] an invasive species, you can immediately see that that area’s clear and … can grow.”

The area managed by the Parks and Recreations Department of Prince George’s County is also home to 26 historical sites deeply entwined with Civil War history and riddled with fossils from 115 million years ago. All of these areas are maintained and staffed by the department.

The department’s staff also provides numerous programs each season to engage all ages. Some of these programs include summer camps for children, ice-skating lessons and aquatic aerobics located in the county’s districts.

The department serves more than 900,000 people each year through a variety of programs, facilities, trails and community partnerships, Pesses said.

The department receives 90 percent of its funding from property taxes, Pesses said, with the rest provided by user fees and occasional state sponsorship for specific projects. The department also receives help through its many volunteers and part-time employees that contribute to the maintenance and staffing of operation facilitated by the department.

“From the north part of Laurel all the way down to Accokeek in the southern part of the county, [the department] works closely with those [communities] and associations to help plan facilities, where parks will be located, and what kind of amenities will be in the park and also what goes on within our community centers,” Pesses said.

There may not be a Leslie Knope in Prince George’s County, but this Parks and Recreations department works just as hard for its community and the citizens that inhabit it.

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