As the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks celebrates 50 years of service, Director Jeff Degitz and others are sharing their thoughts on the agency’s significance throughout the years.
The department has seen a number of accomplishments since its inception in 1971, Degitz said, but the county parks are what has “really touched” many people’s lives.
“For some, the park is where they caught their first fish or hit their first baseball,” Degitz said. “It’s the home of many fond memories, and we have guests who regularly visit.”
He pointed out some of the more important events in the department’s history, such as the groundbreaking for the Piney Run Dam in 1975; the opening of the Hashawha Environmental Center in 1977, the Carroll County Sports Complex in 1989 and the Hap Baker Firearms Facility in 1996; the debut of the department’s first highly popular and heavily used walking trail at Sandymount Park; and the installment of the Bennett Cerf Dog Park in 2013, later followed by the opening of the South Carroll Dog Park in 2020.
These events, along with others, will be posted on a timeline available at ccrecpark.org in the coming weeks.
Richard Soisson, who served as director of the department from 1993 to 2005, said a good example of a strong collaboration within the department took place in 2003, when they worked with the city of Westminster and the Carroll County Arts Council to purchase and develop the former Carroll Theatre, now home to the arts council.
“It turns out we were able to buy the building with Program Open Space funds for over $300,000,” Soisson said.
In the 50 years since rec and parks was established, Soisson said it’s been “a major contributor to Carroll County” and ardently supported by the county commissioners.
He mentioned the activity at the parks over the past year and a half has been higher than ever before due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It helped people get out of the house” and connect with others safely, Soisson said.
There are currently 28 county parks in Carroll County, totaling just under 4,800 acres.
The parks saw record crowds, especially Piney Pun Park, throughout the pandemic as residents sought outdoor activities.
Degitz said the department so far has been blessed to have a “really dedicated staff that is loyal to the people of Carroll County,” adding that employees have made “creative and interesting adjustments” as far as programming during the pandemic, such as offering to-go activities and craft kits.
Although an event had been planned this year to celebrate the department’s accomplishments, it was postponed until next June due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very challenging to plan for an event like that,” Degitz said. “We didn’t want to put people in a position where they have to choose between their health and supporting the department.”
Various other activities are being offered throughout the year in honor of the anniversary, including a summer sticker scavenger hunt, a 50-day walking challenge and a 50/50 raffle. The rec and parks logo has also been modified to reflect the milestone.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said Degitz “does a great job” running the department, which offers the best programming and volunteers.
“We have a lot of nice parks in the county and we’re always looking for ways to use Program Open Space funding to enhance them,” Frazier said.
The department is hosting the Piney Run Park Fall Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, where residents will be invited to celebrate the season with artisan and craft vendors, live music, a costume parade, food, pumpkin painting, wagon rides and more.