Friends of Cecil County Parks and Rec exceeds expectations with fun activities and solid organizingJun 02, 2021 12:28PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
These days, when someone says “Parks and Rec,” chances are you think of the popular TV comedy about Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson and a cast of characters who provide lots of laughs as they pursue various projects in a small Indiana town.
Although Thomas McFadden has a good sense of humor, his prime concerns are focused on several important aspects of the resources of leisure, entertainment and recreational pursuits for the citizens of Cecil County.
Born and raised in Cecil County, McFadden moved to Baltimore for college at Loyola University, then relocated to Thailand to teach English as a post-graduate service program. He worked for American Express in Arizona, and then spent time in India, assisting a center for Global Credit Fraud Operations. His eclectic background also includes behavioral management and residential counseling for adults with disabilities and severe mental illnesses. His current responsibilities include teaching in the social sciences department as a faculty member at Cecil College.
McFadden is a founding Board Director of the Friends of Cecil County Parks and Recreation, and has served in that position since the inception of the board in 2018. He explained the mission this way: “We are the 501 (c) (3), the non-profit arm…we do largely advocacy, (some) fund-raising, especially more recently, at the county level. And we do some sponsorship programs, some scholarship programs, but it’s mostly advocacy.
We promote…a thriving, active community with open spaces, so it’s not just our physical health, but our mental health as well, especially over the last year with the pandemic.”
In fact, McFadden said, Cecil County Parks & Rec (CCPR) was one of the only Maryland programs that actually stayed open during the pandemic, continuing to run events.
“We’re one of the few that actually stayed open during the pandemic. All of our parks, Calvert Regional, Brantwood, Conowingo really saw a huge spike in activity. Everybody’s stuck at home, the kids still need to get out and play, people need to get out for a walk,” he explained.
Since Cecil County Public Schools had to shut down its sports programs, CCPR became a welcome substitute. They partnered with each other and were able to keep a minimal amount of activity going through the health crisis.
Through all the different types of athletic participation, one sport ranked as the primary energy driver in the last year.
“Our main accomplishment during the pandemic was our ability to fundraise and install a professional level disc golf course at Brantwood Park with a cost over $20,000.”
Brantwood is the old golf course on the way to Chesapeake City on Route 213. The course is 18 holes, two different tee pads (blue for amateurs, gold for more experienced players). The higher-skilled pros have a different distance to the basket.
“This has all been done by fundraising and local business, as well as the disc golf community,” McFadden explained. “Once the budget changed because of the pandemic, we knew we wouldn’t have that capital improvement funded. That’s when Kyle Van Dyke and I went to Clyde and said, ‘can we run with this idea?’ He said go for it. Within six months, we had raised enough money to put in a course. There was a lot of enthusiasm and community engagement, and it really is taking off. We have a huge disc golf group out of Delaware, and we’re bringing in people from the tri-state area. It’s great for revenue.”
The tournament held at Brantwood this past April was sanctioned by the Professional Disc Golf Association. “From the transition of frisbee golf to actual disc golf, where they started designing the actual tiers of disc, that really started in the 1980s. They’re special discs, so just like in regular golf, you have your distance driver, your mid-range, your putter, they have actually designed discs that will fly in different ratios or stability. It used to be the big old, ultimate frisbee disc, then they started playing with the design of the disc , like the rims and the weight of the plastic, the firmness and all of that created discs that fly in this kind of format. Now you purchase a driver and your putters are sort of fat., nubby little discs.”
Unlike the PGA, which adheres to conservative fashion etiquette (except for John Daly), the PDGA would seem to value comfort over formal style.
“There are definitely no rules about what you wear,” McFadden said.
On the other hand, some rules are more strictly enforced. “Definitely rules on out-of-bounds on the fairway …if they go too far left or right,” he said.
And there are judges who make official calls to make sure everything is legitimate. “For tournaments, they run doubles on Mondays as a little bit of a side game up at Calvert Regional Park, and we do doubles at Brantwood on Thursdays,” McFadden explained.
The support for disc golf has been building and the folks are willing to do more than a little traveling to take part in this recreational sport. “We did kind of like a natural play opening, and that was back in November, and we had people who drove like six hours to play the course. They were so excited. You know Brantwood used to be a regular ball golf course.”
At one point, McFadden said, Brantwood suffered a little blight, and “they didn’t know what to do with it. So through an open spaces grant in the state of Maryland, the county was actually gifted with all of that space. We also do some habitat restoration. Conowingo Park already has some good pollinators but not a lot of diversity, so for the Monarch Butterfly, we installed a bunch of milkweed, their host plant. We installed some nest boxes for the birds. And we’re doing follow-up monitoring. We also plan to do the same thing out at Brantwood. There’s a lot of opportunity to re-meadow that open space and bring back in the native pollinator plants.”
To complete the golf ball, golf disc comparison, McFadden redefines the objective: “There’s a chain link basket that is the target. So you want to get it into that basket in as few throws as possible.”
Although you might not expect any kind of golf to be played between November and March, Cecil County disc courses are heavily populated during cold weather months too. McFadden explained, “The courses are always busy. Even in the dead of winter, these guys are out there. When it’s freezing cold outside, you drive by ‘these courses and they’re out there. They’re throwing In the rain, in the wind…they don’t care. These guys are fanatics. And I think it’s great because the park is getting used.”
There’s also a “leave no trace” mentality that treats the land with dignity and respect. “If there’s trash that blows in, people are always picking it up,” he said.
The week-to-week activities are monitored by the disc golf community, McFadden added. “Meanwhile, we’ll throw together bigger tournaments every once in a while and partner with them.”
The Friends of Cecil County Parks and Recreation has a board of about twelve members, along with a Facebook page and, McFadden mentioned, has been working on having a website available soon at www.friendsccpr.org.
McFadden enthusiastically cited some recent developments that amplify the growing momentum of this recreational sport that motivates the Friends of CCPR. This past May 4, the tournament at Brantwood was a big success and the Cecil County Council presented a proclamation to Kyle Van Dyke, who runs the Cecil County Disc Golf Club and is responsible for the Facebook page. That was the first time in 15 years for that kind of recognition.
“The presentation that Director Clyde Van Dyke did that day for his budget hearing was an amazing testament to our parks and rec,” he said.
Clyde Van Dyke praised the efforts as “…monumental to our success. They work hand in hand with public organizations in the community …to help us not just raise money for scholarships for those not able to afford some of our programs but also…very helpful to the disc golf community implement the course at Brantwood. So we are very grateful for their time and commitment to our mission and our goals.”
Operations crews take care of everything from the flats of 222 in Conowingo all the way to Earleville and everything in between. Phase three of Calvert should be winding up pretty soon.
They added 1154 additional parking spots, walking trails and the path from the high school, which allows for travel off of Route 272 in through the high school entrance all the way through phase three behind the arena without going back on the main highway. The new configuration clearly enhances the commitment to safety.
Despite the COVID-19 challenges, projected revenues have been exceeded. “We’re very proud of that as well,” Van Dyke said. “A lot of that has to do with our facilities being open when other jurisdictions were not, so our rentals were very heavily utilized. We’re very proud to represent Cecil County for not just the neighboring jurisdictions but from all across the nation. We have players from as far west as California, Maine, Florida, Ohio. So we’re proud to showcase Cecil County at Calvert.”
As Cecil County and the world continues to approach normalcy again, the future looks bright for Parks & Rec in general and disc golf in particular.
Cecil County Parks & Recreation 200 Chesapeake Boulevard, Suite 1200 Elkton, MD 21921 Office: 410-996-8101 Fax: 800-532-2298 Open M-F 7:30am-4:00pm www.friendsccpr.org