Once the site of controversy, Quiet Waters Park celebrates 20 years of sanctuary

It staggers the imagination to think that a little more than 20 years ago, the idea of saving a pristine neck of land on the South River and remaking it into a showplace public park would have been controversial.

Now, two decades after Quiet Waters Park made its debut, the proof is that it attracts 700,000 visitors a year. The claims that it would bring noisy crowds, harm the environment and be too extravagant have evaporated. It's established itself as a beloved haven of sanctuary and sanity for its patrons, who praise its paths, forested groves, tucked-away gardens and water views.


"I ran through the fountain today," said Jennifer Caulk, who was married to her husband, Matthew, exactly 10 years ago Thursday in one of the park's several gazebos. "It maybe wasn't right, but I figured it was my wedding anniversary. Now I bring my two sons to Quiet Waters."

She calls it a "very special place," where there are no neighbors to see, no sights of lines of moving traffic and the loudest sounds may be birds singing or a whining cicada.


Anne Arundel County officials are holding a park birthday party Sunday, Sept. 5. Sweet Lime and Passion will offer Caribbean music from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform pop and light classics from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. At the end of the show, park officials will distribute kazoos to the audience in an attempt to break the record for largest kazoo ensemble.

Quiet Waters Park opened in September 1990 on a woodland tract between the South River and Harness Creek in Annapolis. Park officials say visitors can walk, jog, or bike on more than six miles of paved trails winding through hardwood forests and field. There is a multilevel children's playground and a fenced dog-run area. Patrons may take in expansive vistas at the South River promenade, where there is also a paddle boat concession. In cold months, there is an ice-skating rink.

While the park is bordered by water, no swimming is allowed, but there are plenty of boating opportunities.

Flanked by formal gardens, the park's Visitor Center houses an art gallery that is currently exhibiting the works of artists who have displayed their watercolors, oils and photos over the past two decades.

Quiet Waters began when one of the last remaining undeveloped tracts was at a turning point. Would it become yet another subdivision of expensive homes on cul-de-sacs, or would it be something different, a greensward conforming to the aesthetic principles of the 19th-century visionary, Frederick Law Olmsted? The Olmsted vision prevailed.

"It's a place of respite. What is better than to come to a place and reflect on what is going on in your life?" asked County Executive John R. Leopold. "The park is one of the county's most highly praised amenities. It is a place for solace."

Leopold credits former County Executive O. James Lighthizer, who fought opposition to create the park. The project was initially founded through Maryland Department of Natural Resources Project Open Space funds.

"Jim's vision was not universally approved. People called it a boondoggle. But over the years, his vision has borne fruit," Leopold said on a visit to Quiet Waters last week. "With the economy keeping more people close to home, the park has become a greater asset. I have ordered that it remain open even on county furlough days."


Quiet Waters was designed and built by the firm of Greenman and Pedersen, which laid out water features, fountains, a reflecting pool and a boxwood garden. In some places, there are teak benches, arbors, brick walkways and sculpture.

"The idea, as Olmsted conceived it, was to bring an estate of the wealthy to the common person," said Michael Murdock, superintendent of Quiet Waters for the past two decades. "It's a place of long vistas, carriage roads and stately trees. It has the same theme and philosophy of Central Park in New York."

The preservation of the land saved thousands of oaks, tulip poplars, maples, holly, sycamore and ash trees.

"The first time I visited Quiet Waters, I was humbled and overwhelmed. It is the quintessential idyllic classic park. It's gorgeous," said Christopher Carroll, chief of park operations for the southern half of the county.

According to a Baltimore Sun account, in early 1986 developers entered into a contract to buy the former Quiet Waters Farm, a wooded waterfront tract on the South River. They planned to build 250 luxury homes.

But when neighbors learned of their intentions, and the city of Annapolis declined to annex the tract to facilitate development, Lighthizer intervened and purchased the property. News accounts said residents in the adjacent community of Hillsmere Shores had assumed the land would be left as the largest unspoiled waterfront tract in the Annapolis area.


But Lighthizer and county recreation and parks officials had other plans. They modeled an ambitious proposal after historic Druid Hill Park in Baltimore and Central Park in New York City. It was supposed to cost another $8 million to develop Quiet Waters. That turned out to be $4 million too low. Now few people look back.

"I don't think that in hindsight you'd find anyone who would say we ought to have more condos here," said Carroll, the park operations official.

If you go

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra helps Quiet Waters Park celebrate its 20th anniversary with a free open-air Labor Day weekend concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, with Caribbean music by Sweet Lime and Passion. There is free admission to the park after 3 p.m. for the concert. Rain date is Monday, Sept. 6. Directions and information: 410-263-0907 or