Thursday, February 24, 2011

Victory for Victory Gardens in Montgomery County

Okay, okay. I can't help but laugh at the announcement in last week's message from the Montgomery Victory Gardens people:

We won! We won! We won!

One can almost picture the nanny-nanny-boo-boos being levelled at the Montgomery County Public Schools on this one... and there are many who say they had it coming.

For more than a year, Gordon Clark and his crew at the MVG have been lobbying the county to make it okay to garden on school property. Things reached a somewhat ridiculous point when First Lady Michelle Obama even came and visited a MoCo school to promote gardening -- ridiculous since the county had long prohibited any kind of gardening on that same school property.

(One famous meeting with school officials included the complaint that gardens couldn't be located on school property because principals might get bird droppings on their nice cars. I am not making this up.)

Well, Gordon and his crew lobbied tirelessly and they won. Good for you, Gordon. Let us hope this is the first of many changes at MCPS.

To read a rather thin article about it in the Gazette go to this link:

To read more about MVGs efforts I suggest subscribing to Gordon's excellent weekly updates.

Guest post on the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog

I was thrilled to get an invitation from Betsy Franz and the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog this month.

Betsy's blog is one of the best in the area for gardeners-- full of great info every time. I also really warmed to the idea of writing about native plants here at the end of winter.

Thanks, Betsy, for the invitation to be a part of your great online space!

(The picture above, by the way, is of the swamp sunflowers mentioned in the article. Although in my piece I talk about them as brown and dead at the end of winter here is what they look like in autumn in full bloom.)

Look Into the Murky Crystal Ball: MNCPPC's Vision 2030 Report

(The following was originally published in the February edition of the Voice newspapers, of Takoma Park, Silver Spring and Kensington, Maryland as a part of my Sligo Naturalist column.)

Ever wish you could sit down in front of a crystal ball to see what the future will look like for our area? Last week I attended a feedback session hosted by the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). They were gathering final comments and reactions to Vision 2030, a plan which will ultimately guide how the county powers that be treat our parks and recreational facilities in the next 20 years.

Like many area residents, I’ve been alarmed by how deep the cuts have been for Parks and Rec during this most recent fiscal crisis. Because of that I’ve decided to pay close attention to Vision 2030 report.

But without sounding wonkish, what does that mean exactly?

Well, the night the Vision 2030 draft plan was unveiled provided ample evidence of how things can get skewed in this county and how they need improvement.

For example, the report shows (in both text and maps such as those on page 17) that there is an imbalance of programming whereby the farther out (and often wealthier) suburbs get a very disproportionate amount of recreational programs at their facilities.

This is no surprise to parents in the “downcounty” areas of Silver Spring and Wheaton. Ever try signing your child up for a dance or art class? It always seems like more than half of them are held in places like Potomac and Gaithersburg. Now we have real evidence that this is actually the case.

To correct this, one of the stated long-term goals for the county will be to place programs and facilities more evenly, and where there’s a majority of people and more transit access.

That’s good, I think.

There was also an effort made in the report to emphasize that the parks play an integral role in preserving and presenting cultural resources and historic sites to the public. And, a very real effort to address the problem that many services are not accessible to those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

Again, I think those all are very good goals.

What worried me and many others who were at last week’s meeting, however, was how development-heavy and recreation-heavy the overall vision for the future of the parks seems in the report.

This prompted one attentive woman at the meeting to ask for a definition of what a park was in their report. Could a park experience be, she inquired, something as urban and structural as the new ice skating rink in downtown Silver Spring? The answer that came back was somewhat unclear: Yes, maybe, depending on how they counted it…

This is where my skepticism kicked in, as it did for many others. I like the new rink, I’m glad for it. But that ain’t no park in my book. If they are counting that as a park then right away I wonder how they are stacking this deck.

I’m not the only one apparently skeptical about the way MNCPPC and its consultants rated park use and experience. A few days after the meeting, Carole Ann Barth, a parks advocate from the Four Corners neighborhood emailed me. She’d read the report and had this thought:

“They have no credible data on how the parks are actually used, yet they presume to tell us what facilities are most needed. 100 people could visit a park individually or as families and spend hours picnicking, walking the dog, chatting with neighbors, throwing frisbees, bird watching, or engaging in hundreds of other so-called “passive activities.” All these people, however, would be invisible to Parks, because they only record the single small group of people who permitted a field for a couple of hours.”

Yes, I agree. Or the people who paid for a rental ticket for skates. But the rest of the people, as Carole says, remain invisible.

My concerns only grew as I continued to read the Executive Summary of Vision 2030 more closely. Goal 11, I noted, seeks to “Inventory, conserve, restore and enhance ecologically healthy and biologically diverse natural areas with a focus on Park Best Natural Areas, Biodiversity Areas, and Environmentally Sensitive Areas.” Furthermore the goal states a need to “prioritize Best Natural Areas and Biodiversity Areas based on their ecological value and biological diversity.”

That’s great. Really. I mean it. I want the wonderful bio-diverse parts of MoCo conserved, restored and enhanced before we go buggering them up as bad as we have managed to bugger up the rest of the county.

But I would *also* like it if the not-so-bio-diverse, not-so-environmentally sensitive areas get some badly needed attention. Namely, I’d like those places to get more new trees, and I’d like to see the mature trees that are there appreciated and maintained a protected as valuable resources. And I’d like to see those areas managed with ecosystem values in mind, not programming.

In all fairness, Vision 2030’s goal 11.5 does say that there is a need to develop “comprehensive restoration plans for down-County {sic} stream valley parks including Rock Creek, Sligo Creek and Little Falls.” Hooray! But will that ultimately include funding for things like the invasive plant removal and ongoing maintenance needed to address stormwater trouble in those creeks? Will that ultimately mean that some new parks and green spaces will be designated in the more dense areas? Will it mean aggressively planting trees, and making downcounty developers pay for replacement trees in downcounty parks?

Or will it mean more playgrounds, ball fields and ice rink facilities?

When are we going to acknowledge that forests and streams provide ecosystem services that go beyond their value as recreational venues? Its nice to walk along the creek and peruse new trails, but forests and canopy cover have an intrinsic value all their own that is a benefit to everyone in the county, not just the immediate users of said parks. That’s because every minute of every day those trees are filtering pollution, cleaning our air, providing shade and cooling in the summer and even protecting us from wind during storms. Sure, you can’t charge a program fee for them, but they mean a lot to all of us each time we breathe.

And right now a lot of the few remaining forest tracts in this section of the county are sitting on parkland. They are squeezed in between aging subdivisions and heavily used roads, and ravaged by regular root-scrubbings during storms due to poor stormwater practices. They are tangled in honeysuckle, mile-a-minute and ivy. They are suffering, they need stewardship. They need a commitment to sound land management.

The Vision 2030 report is supposed to guide us towards a sustainable future. But if we give up on our forests down here then we have essentially given up on the downcounty’s future health and well-being. If we chose not to take on the needed stewardship now in the present then we will ultimately give up on the whole watershed, including the Anacostia where so much of our pollution ends up and the Chesapeake Bay which is fed by the Anacostia and Potomac waters.

To that end, Vision 2030 included goal number four, which seeks to “provide an appropriate balance between stewardship and recreation.” But what, I ask, does the word “appropriate” mean? How do we define balanced? That it seems, is up for debate and a bit too open-ended for my comfort.

So I’m shouting out to you now. Take a look at Vision 2030 online. Read it carefully, get a cup of coffee first if that will help you stay awake. But read it. Then respond. Let the county know your thoughts. Because if we don’t weigh in now, the people who live here in 2030 will certainly be the worse for it, even if they do have a lot more places to take skating and art classes.

Planning the Urban Forest at ANS

Conservation Montgomery, the new environmental group here in MoCo Maryland, is hosting something that looks kinda interesting:

Nationally-known land use planner Jim Schwab will speak on "Planning the Urban Forest" Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 7:15 at the Audubon NaturalistSociety Woodend Sanctuary, 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

For more information: