- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

Determined young mothers in Adams Morgan are nursing their own field of dreams.

They're trying to raise money to restore Walter C. Pierce Community Park on Ontario Road NW, which has become a haven for drug dealers, so their children will have a place to play and playground equipment to play on.

The volunteers, who call themselves "Friends of Walter C. Pierce Community Park" and include fathers, retirees and professionals, have raised $40,650 from the community, mostly by knocking on doors, talking to businesses and selling commemorative bricks (for $50 each, with donor's name inscribed) for the restored walks, and they need an additional $22,850 by tomorrow.

"It's not just about needing another playground or another park to go to," says Alix Murdoch, a Mount Pleasant mother of two who is helping to spearhead the effort to restore the park.

"It's really to give those children who are otherwise hanging out in the street a place to go to and play," she says.

Agrees Alexandra Fields Collin, mother of boys, 4 and 1, with hair as red as the older boy's toy fire engine: "We're city moms who have the same wishes that moms in the suburbs have, but we have more limited outdoor space and we have to rely on the community to help us."

Toyin Popoola, a Nigerian native, is a full-time nanny who cares for five children in Adams Morgan. "A community is lost without a park," she says. "It would be nice to say we can just go to a park that's right across the street from the children's house. We won't have to go elsewhere for the children to play."

The park, on Adams Mill Road at Ontario Place, serves more than 100,000 residents in the Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Woodley Park and Kalorama neighborhoods. It's the city's smallest and most ethnically diverse ward, whose population is 49 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent from other cultural backgrounds. About 23 percent of residents, including children, live in or near poverty.

"This park is the only place where everyone can come together and learn about each other," says Friends leader Katie Davis, a resident of Lanier Street NW.

"This park needs to be a positive and enticing place where a community can come together."

Once a Quaker cemetery, the 4.7-acre park slowly fell into disrepair over the last six years, when the D.C. government stopped capital improvement funds to maintain its parks. What was once a park equipped with two playgrounds and a well-kept soccer field quickly became a hangout for drug users and a temporary shelter for the homeless.

The conditions of the field became so hazardous that a group of Latino residents who played soccer there have gone elsewhere.

"They had to leave because the field was unsafe," says Nialle Condensa, a Mount Pleasant mother who joined the rebuilding effort. "The field was rotting."

Some of the playground equipment was stolen or broken, making it nearly impossible for neighborhood children to enjoy. One of the slides had a hole and some of the links that held up the swing sets were missing.

"The kids would fly off the swings when the swings snapped," Ms. Davis says. "Those kids are our future council members, budget officers. They need a place where they can play."

The two playgrounds have since been removed from the park.

Every day dog owners out for a morning stroll with their canine friends find empty crack-cocaine plastic bags, needles and empty bottles lying on the eroded field. Many of the dog walkers began bringing plastic gloves and trash bags to pick up the trash.

"We don't want a child to pick it up or a dog to step on the needles or broken glass," says Jessica Beels of Lanier Place NW, whose husband, Charles Burg, regularly picks up trash at the park while walking the family's black Labrador.

Some of the lampposts collapsed and, in some cases, lay on the ground for months, with live electrical wires exposed, before they were removed. The electrical sockets are still exposed on nearly all of the remaining lampposts.

"There are still live wires lying on the ground," Ms. Condensa says. "When it rains, you can see sparks coming from the wires."

Weary of seeing the park fall deeper into disrepair, the residents took it upon themselves to rebuild the park, brick by brick. Since last fall, they have handed out more than 2,000 brochures that describe the park project to neighborhood residents and local businesses.

The group also enlisted the services of landscape architect and planner Jeff Lee of Lee and Liu Associates Inc. in Northwest to work with residents in designing a new master plan for the park.

Several neighborhood restaurants, including Cities, Blue, and Pearl on 18th Street NW, will hold fund-raising events tonight to help the group reach its goal. They will offer wine, cheese and hors d'oeuvres, seeking $20 as a minimum donation.

In all, it will cost $235,000 to renovate the upper grounds of the park and another $211,000 to restore the soccer field and basketball court.

The group has been working with D.C. council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, whose officials promised to donate $12,000 for new playground equipment and another $200,000, in the next two months, for overall park improvements. Andy Miscuk, the ANC commissioner, will tend the bar tonight at Felix restaurant and donate all his tips.

"We're able to use tax dollars to support strong communities like Adams Morgan," says Larry Brown, a spokesman for the department. "It certainly makes our job a lot easier when you have citizens who are involved in improving their neighborhoods. It's great what the people in Adams Morgan are doing." They hope to have the new playground equipment installed by June 10.

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