by Sean Byrne, Asst. Park Naturalist
As many of you have probably heard by now, Fountain Rock Park & Nature Center is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year. So what does that mean for us? A few things, it turns out. One, it means that there is a need and a desire for environmental education in Frederick County. Two, it means that Frederick County Parks and Rec is dedicated to providing that education in addition to a place for recreation. And three, it means it’s time to celebrate. But to understand where we are today as a park, it’s important to understand where we came from. So first, a little history.
In the 1980’s, Fountain Rock Park operated as a fish hatchery under the direction of McKendree Fulks and Marion Burkett. In a Dec. 2nd 1986 Frederick News Post article, Burkett remembered the spring as “bubbling with crystal clear water.” Burkett sold his interest in the fishery to Fulks in 1981 over concerns with how the natural spring was being treated. “This was a sparkling pond and the spring had so much pressure you could look down in the water and see it surge, it was breathtaking. Now it’s nothing but an overrun weed bed.”
In 1983, Fulks ended up selling the property to Frederick County for $525,000. Maryland Department of Natural Resources offered the county $485,000 to turn the property into a trout hatchery and recreational park. The county would then have water rights over the spring to supply 5,000-6,000 homes. This deal, however, never happened. Concerns over drought during the summer months – potentially meaning the loss of 100,000 trout – brought the state out of the deal.
At this point, the Board of County Commissioners turned to the private sector and put out a call for interested individuals. And yet, not too far away, something was brewing in the mind of Parks Management student Alice Nemitsas. Her mother had told Alice about the back and forth dealing with the 22.5 acre property and, curious, Alice drove out to view it. As soon as she got to the property, Alice saw the value – much more than just a water source, this land presented a historical and ecological significance. The land was in such disarray, however, that the kilns were barely recognizable and the park was overgrown with all sorts of plants. So, she crafted a plan.
Alice met with then Director of Frederick County Parks and Rec., Gil Kingsbury that March and presented the idea to turn the property into a natural park. Kingsbury approved of the idea but cautioned it would take a lot of work. Alice began networking and laying out plans immediately. In June of 1987, Alice out her plan before the Board of County Commissioners, claiming, according to a News-Post article, it would be a “wiser use” of the land. The commissioners allowed for a two-week period in which the Town of Walkersville and Frederick County could come together and work out a solution to the land. Frederick County Public Works Director Lawrence Johnson, led the talks. It was during this time that Alice pushed the hardest to prove that turning the land into a park was the best option.
Officials of Frederick County and Walkersville agreed to a plan during the second week of September sanctioning the construction of a public park on the 22.5 acres of land that had been the subject of many dealings. Proponents praised the idea for a unique and exciting park. “There is the potential for developing the most complete system of recreational facilities outside Frederick city,” Johnson said of the deal in a 1987 Frederick News-Post article.
It was another year before all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted. But the park was happening. Headlines about the park dominated the papers. The Frederick News Post editorial board even gave a shout-out to Alice on the front page. It took a year and a half of planning. But it worked.
It was another few years before Alice was brought on as a paid staff member, first as half-time, then three-quarter, then full. But her mission, and her message, were always the same: Fountain Rock Park would be unique in providing environmental education in a historical and ecological haven. From there, the park went through multiple capital improvements and renovations. New classes were developed, animals came and went through the Nature Center, and different portions of the land were eventually opened up for public use.
This brings us to today. All of our 22.5 acres are open to the public. We still offer the unique opportunity to see both historical and ecological landmarks. We’ve come a long way since 1987. The moral of this story? This park began as one person’s dream, then two, then four, ten, fifty, one hundred. This park grew before its doors even opened. Alice proved that this land had so much potential, and we continue to prove it everyday. So let’s keep working on it. 30 years is a great milestone, but it’s nowhere near the milestone we hope to see in the future.
Alice always saw the potential of the park. Everyone, she said, saw the potential. We see it. Do you?