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A better day in the park

Jan 08, 2015 04:13PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Courtesy photo

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Behind the desk of Cindy Cantor, the recreation superintendent for the Cecil County Department of Parks and Recreation, there are several binders latched onto the wall, marked by playing fields and locations.

On the other side of Cantor's desk and pinned to another wall is a computer-generated rendition of an athletic complex adjacent to Rising Sun High School that is dotted with fields, parkland and trails. It hasn't been built yet, and it may be several years before a shovel is placed into the ground and several years after that before a Cecil County parent gets to watch his or her kid play on a playground there.

The clash of the present and the future is obvious in the big picture of a department that provides activities and programs for the county's 100,000 residents. For now, however, the work that Cantor and recreation coordinator Danielle Hemling do to keep Cecil County moving is just short of breathtaking.  

A quick glance at a department flyer will reveal a constantly evolving roster of sports programs, art classes; adult soccer leagues; lacrosse leagues; co-ed high school flag football; tennis lessons; dance instruction; and preschool activities with names like "Musical Munchkins," and "Crafty Tots Mommy & Me." The programs and activities that find their way into the curriculum often get their start from not only the inventiveness of Cantor and Hemling, but from the needs expressed by area residents -- as well as their willingness to help out. Recently, a woman approached Cantor with the idea to begin a sign language class for children.   

Courtesy photo The Cecil County Department of Parks and Recreation offers hundreds of programs that engage residents in athletics, pre-school activities, family activities, education and personal growth.

"We have a mentality here that we will throw anything against the wall and see what sticks," Cantor said. "There's a lot of trial and error, seeing new and different trends. Many are saying cricket as the fastest growing sport in Maryland, and if it is, then my wheels are starting to turn. We stay abreast of what's going on around us and hearing what people want."  

New on the Parks and Rec calendar for this year is its Movers Program,  an after-school intramural program targeted toward middle schoolers and coordinated with teachers from the Cecil County Public School System, who stay after school with the students and run flag football, basketball and other sports programs.  

"It allows a lot of kids to participate after school," Cantor said. "It's a partnership that we've been trying to establish with the board of education for a long time. There's an element to kids staying after school, in their own schools with their own teachers. It's a win-win for everyone. They get the kids participating, fit and healthy, and out and moving a bit more."    

The Movers Program is a direct result of many enrichment programs the department began a few years ago in many of the local elementary schools, which included mask-making, papier-mache, and a newspaper club that developed its own newspaper.

"By stepping it up to middle schools and entering the athletic arena, we knew it would be successful," Cantor said. "Seven years ago, there was a summer program and an aerobics class. Now, there are over 150 activities and classes offered throughout the year. We've taken small steps, and tackle the needs as they arise."

If there is a white elephant in the room of recreational activities in Cecil County, it's the need for even more facilities, all against the backdrop of an anticipated population growth within the county, which is projected to be 154,900 in 2030. A 2011 Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan set down its long-term plans for land acquisition, facility development and rehabilitation needs, which it estimated would cost a total of $36 million. 

Courtesy photo Many of the department's offerings are generated by Cecil County residents.

Included in the plan would be the acquisition of 250 to 410 acres of park and recreation land; a 75- to 100-acre community park in Elkton; an indoor sport complex and recreation center in Elkton; two 25- to 50-acre community parks in Rising Sun and North East; the creation of recreational trails and increased water access points; and the development of a 115-acre recreation property at the convergence of routes 272 and 273 across the street from Rising Sun High School. Planned to be developed in two phases, the park will feature playgrounds, walking and biking trails, skate parks, sledding hills, splash pads, tennis courts, multi-purpose synthetic playing fields, soccer pitches, basketball courts, baseball fields, as well as an outdoor, acoustically designed amphitheater with elevated lawn seating.

Cantor estimated that the first phase of development for the Calvert property will cost about $5 million -- funding that is currently being pursued -- but has the potential to quickly see a return on its investment. Sports tourism revenue, she said, can be generated from state tournaments, seen in the form of visitors who spend money at restaurants and hotels and gas stations.

"The economic impact on your community from sports tourism is amazing," Cantor said. "There's the potential for increased revenue and impact on a county that a lot of the funding going elsewhere may not do for us."

Up against the ideas are the statistics that point to a staggering rise in drug abuse among Maryland teens, which is directly correlated to an increase in incarceration. These numbers support where the state's dollars are going; the State of Maryland recently spent $34 million to upgrade a detention center in Cecil County.

"We want to provide a lot more outlets for the youth of our community, because our argument has been that we can keep throwing money at the other end of this problem, or we can throw $5 million on this end, to give teens a place to tool around in and have fun and become engaged. We think it could have an impact, because we talk about those times when there isn't a lot of supervision.  The least we can do is provide outlets for them."

The future of the Cecil County Department of Parks and Recreation may be, for the moment, etched in comprehensive plans and posted on the wall of the department's office, but its present is a flourish of activity. Every day, residents visit the office on Wilson Road in Rising Sun for information on classes, schedules and activities.   

"I think our department is reflected best when you go out on one of our fields and see a mass of kids and their parents being engaged," Hebring said. "That's when we know that we have affected this community in a positive way, especially when you see a mix of kids from different areas all playing together, who otherwise may not have known each other. That's what we want to see at Calvert, to continue that engagement that we see being made."

For more information about the programs and activities offered by the Cecil County Department of Parks and Recreation, call 410-392-4537 or 410-658-3000, or visit www.ccgov.org.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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