Group’s initial meeting well attended
On Monday evening, Jan. 9, the Shepherdstown Community Club (SCC) held an exploratory meeting to assess the interest of area residents in establishing a “Friends of Morgan’s Grove Park” organization. Approximately 20 members of the community attended and actively engaged in sharing their views. Former SCC President Mike Austin, who chaired the meeting, explained that the results of the discussion would be provided to the club’s new executive board for appropriate action. A considerable portion of the dialog focused on the need for such an organization.
He stated that although the club owned and had responsibility for both the War Memorial Building and the park, the primary focus in recent years has been in town on German Street and not on Morgan’s Grove.
“Once the decision was made nearly a decade ago to lease the park to the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission (JCPRC) the club literally became absentee landlords and only concerned themselves with capital improvements and liability issues. As a result, club activity at the park and support declined significantly. There is a serious need to restore the balance – both are essential for the SCC to carry out its mission in the interest of the greater Shepherdstown Community.”
Local neighbor Tom Walsh, who is in the park almost daily, stated that: “Most people who use the park don’t know that it is privately owned and operated on behalf of the community by the SCC. They just assume that it is a public asset provided by the county with maintenance and other costs paid for by our taxes. As a result they have minimal interests in its upkeep. There is a sense of entitlement. It is simply taken for granted.”
Austin added that: “Similarly the primary organized use of the park is by the soccer leagues that annually contract with JCPRC. They understandably have no sense of ownership as well. They pay for their use of the park and apparently feel no need to get involved in helping to care for it. The situation is exacerbated by county development of a new park near Leetown that in several years may meet soccer league requirements. “
There was solid agreement that the park is historically significant and an integral part of the Shepherdstown Community’s unique appeal. A number of participants pointed out the importance of the Town Run watershed which originates from springs in and around the 20-zacre park and the need to address environmental as well as recreational issues.
There was also general consensus that the recent controversy over a request to rezone adjacent land had been beneficial in getting people to become more aware of what the park really means to them and to be more proactively involved in decisions concerning it. Diana Suttenfield noted that she had launched a similar effort to heighten interest in the park in 1988. She shared local newspaper clippings that drew attention to the need for more comprehensively planned use of the park and community involvement. She had subsequently taken the lead in getting the park and surrounding area on the Federal Historic Register.
There was some concern voiced that a new “Friends” organization might compete with the SCC in seeking members, funds and most importantly, volunteers and therefore not prove to be helpful. The general reaction was that a totally different group of families would be getting involved that would be drawn from diverse sectors of the community who had a shared interest in the park. The administrative concerns would be address by having formal “Friends” representation on the SCC board, ensuring that funds raised would be devoted to the park, and by sharing public affairs and other channels for communication with the public.
In the discussions, Austin emphasized that concerted efforts were being made to increase and diversify activities at the park such as “Earth Day,” the annual picnics and to participate in Shepherdstown 250 observances.
The club had an excellent working relationship with the county and Shepherd University volunteers. But there was a real need for more young families at the park who would ultimately help to provide the next generation of SCC leadership. A “friends organization” had been suggested several times before but now might be the time to make something happen.