- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The cash-strapped District wants build a monolithic sports complex in the idyllic oasis of old-growth trees and tranquility known as Stoddert Park in Northwest.

The proposed $6.4 million project is an exercise in mind-numbing frivolity, say members of the Coalition to Save Stoddert Park.

They point out that the park is about three blocks away from the Guy Mason Recreation Department on Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Street. They note the modest percentage of children living in Glover Park, whose 6 percent figure is the lowest of the neighborhoods in Ward 3. They also note how the thoroughfares around the park already are stretched to capacity.

They question the fiscal and environmental prudence of dumping another massive sports complex on a section of the city that already is bursting with exercise-related alternatives planted within easy walking distance of the neighborhood. They suspect the funds could be better spent on those wards of the city with a higher concentration of at-risk youth.

But this is the city of political mystery and intrigue, a city of exorbitant tax rates, obsessive ticket writers and finicky trash men, and this in particular is city inspector Cleveland Ray’s stretch of asphalt, where nothing is ever as it seems and nothing is liable to make sense or cents.

Amy Bowman, one of the lead members of the Coalition to Save Stoddert Park, has tried to initiate a dialogue with Ward 3 Council member Kathy Patterson — to no avail.

“They have done absolutely no community outreach here,” Ms. Bowman said. “Everywhere we go we receive the same reaction from residents. No one thinks we need it. We have this green space. Why destroy it?”

Ms. Bowman, Courtney Cunningham and Tamela Gordon — the backbone of the coalition — toured the refuge one evening this week, pointing to the yoga-practicing person under one tree and the team of dog owners playing with their pets in the middle of the field.

“Some of these old-growth trees are more than 200 years old,” Ms. Cunningham said. “The city is just so far behind the curve in trying to preserve the environment.”

This tiny speck on the city map has come to be a sanctuary of sorts for those who plop a lawn chair underneath a tree to read. It is a place of softball games and soccer matches. It is a place to find a moment’s relief from the frenetic pace of city life and the camera-toting Mr. Ray, who often hides among the overgrown bushes in the neighborhood, looking for the slightest infraction, starting with an unkempt blade of grass.

The three women say they have secured 450 signatures from those who oppose the plan and at least 100 e-mail messages of support.

“What we have found is that a good portion of the residents in the neighborhood just did not know about this proposal,” Ms. Gordon said. “It was as if a few people somehow came up with this idea without considering the impact it would have on the neighborhood and the environment.”

The three women remain hopeful that the proposal will be re-examined after meeting yesterday with an official of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

They have come to this fight with a newfound appreciation of how the city functions at the grass-roots level.

To that end, Ms. Bowman and Ms. Gordon are running for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in November, canvassing the neighborhood in search of political support.

They have a park to save and a notion to serve the community in which they live. Theirs is a vision that also de-emphasizes the relevance of the camera-toting Mr. Ray.

Ms. Bowman understands the all-knowing power of Mr. Ray’s camera after he snapped a photograph of an empty cardboard box placed next to her Super Can. She was obligated to pay the fine.

Theirs is a platform certain to rally the neighborhood.

Just say no to a concrete-filled Stoddert Park and the ubiquitous Mr. Ray.

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