In another concession to change, park managers had to replace half of Greenbrier's 150 grills this year due to metal fatigue brought on by dawn-to-dusk use.

The visitors have noticed the effort.

"I recommend this park to all my friends and I bring people from everywhere," says Dilia Giron, a manager of a cell phone store in Beltsville. "They make you feel welcome here. Sometimes I tell my mother we should try another park, but she says , 'No, no, no. This is fine. This is ours.'"

Luis Perez, a truck driver from Silver Spring, says state parks are clean and quiet, safe places to allow urban children to run and play.

"It's like being at home. When you feel comfortable, you're going to be happy," he says.

At Greenbrier, 32 common park announcements have been downloaded to an iPod, everything from a storm warning to a missing-child report to a head's up that someone left their car headlights on. The announcements were recorded by Christina Dalton, 22, a student at UMBC whose mother is from Guatemala.

A park visitor as a child, Dalton was startled two years ago during a visit by the demographic shift. She emailed the park managers about the need for a translator and was hired as part of the summer staff.

Dalton arrives for work in shorts and a tan Greenbrier polo shirt, a small radio clipped to her belt. The understated uniform is in deliberate contrast to the full police uniform worn by rangers.

After unlocking the new nature center — "La Casita de Naturaleza" — she begins her rounds. Dalton moves easily among the families cooking breakfast and stringing multi-colored hammocks from the willow oaks, answering questions and explaining park rules, admiring the spread of food and playfully teasing the children.

She calls her job, "helping people understand each other who don't understand each other." And Dalton considers that rewarding.

"I love that moment when I explain something to both people in a situation and see their faces light up when they get it," she says.

The same thing happens at Sandy Point, where Nuria Velasquez, a Baltimore County school secretary, helps the staff communicate with patrons.

On Memorial Day weekend, when the park was filled to capacity and turning people away, Velasquez was almost overwhelmed as she directed traffic and translated for police officers.

"I've never seen so many people but in a stadium," she says. When a car full of Spanish-speaking people broke down on the park access road, creating gridlock, Velasquez stepped in to cool tempers and get people to push the vehicle onto the grass.

She also explains state fishing and crabbing regulations and reminds families to recycle and pack out their trash.

"I know I make a difference," says Velasquez. "With me, the Latinos have a voice."

All of this attention has caused some bad feelings. The blow back against the influx of Hispanic families, "can be pretty ugly," Settina acknowledges.

After Memorial Day, Greenbrier took a call from an angry woman who demanded to know why the staff allowed "those people" in on an American holiday. Sandy Point managers were criticized on a popular fishing website for repairing a stone jetty "for the illegals." And online discussions about best camping and picnicking choices sometimes veer into discussions about whether some of Greenbrier's Hispanic visitors might be part of the violent gang, MS13.

"It's a challenge for our staff, but there is no wink-wink, nod-nod when it comes to intolerance," Settina says. "When people come to a state park, they're a state park visitor and nothing else. Our policy is not to just tolerate, it's to celebrate cultural values."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

  • Text TERPS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Terps sports text alerts