Op-Ed: 30 Years of History

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.

She succeeded.

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?

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , ,

Meet the Staff: Monica


FR: What’s your job here at the Park?

My official title? Nature Instructor. I’m really a jack of all trades though, I do a little bit of everything in the park. I’ve caught frogs to feed the hognose snake, I do animal care, I teach classes, I teach scout classes, I maintain the letterboxing trail and carve the stamps for them, I’ve worked on the nature library, I’ve been a facilitator for the Master Naturalists, I work with the Trout in the Classroom and Nature in the Classroom, plus, we take nature programming to Title 1 schools.

FR: That’s a lot! How did you get involved with the Park?

Monica: The first time we visited Fountains rock as when my son was 3, he came for a class and continued to take classes. My daughter took classes here and when she went to school I came to take the MN course. During that course they were looking to hire a nature instructor and so I applied. They’ve been stuck with me ever since.

FR: What do you mean ‘ever since’ haha?

We’ve been coming to this park for 11 years now, so I was patron of the park before I was an employee. I don’t usually have the money to give so I give my time instead. A lot of the work I do is on a volunteer basis.

FR: Do you have any background in the outdoors?

Monica: I have no formal outdoor education, but I grew up in the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana (the east side of the Rocky Mountains) and I’ve always enjoyed hiking and being out in nature, it’s very relaxing to me. With kids, they’re always like “mom what’s this” which is why I took the Master Naturalist course to get the resources to identify all the things they were asking me about.

FR: So the kids are into nature as much as Mom is?

Monica: I have very nature curious kids. They like to go hiking, they like to fish, and we go letterboxing which brings us out to trails we wouldn’t see otherwise. We do first day hikes on New Year’s Day and have actually been to 4 different state parks for that. In the summer we like to roll over logs and see what we can find. They actually enjoy going camping, to New Germany for example, where there is no TV or Wi-Fi or anything. It’s not torture for them.

FR: We hope everyone feels that way! What about your own childhood?

Monica: I grew up on a farm, so we had all the area of the farm and all the area around it. We were always going hiking or camping or fishing. We actually use to go cut our own Christmas trees. My Girl Scout camp was on the edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness. So even for camp I was way out in nature.

FR: So Maryland’s mountains. Are they really mountains? Or are they just hills?

Monica: Maryland is a lot different from Montana, but that’s part of the reason I like Fredrick County. When I first moved here it was in Bethesda, then New Germantown. Fredrick county reminds me of home, there’s trees, obviously, but there’s still mountain (hills) etc. Plus you’re close to Baltimore and DC so you can take advantage of all the cultural things like museums, zoos, events, etc. So you get the best of both worlds. My son and I were actually took a micro-paleontology event at the National History Museum and we went to a really cool geoscience event in Baltimore where they got to make earthquakes by jumping on the floor and other geology things. There’s lots of opportunity.

FR: Why is environmental education important to you?

Monica: Because I think we care about what we know about. Even if it’s something simple like learning about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, even if it’s small like that, then you care about something. If you teach kids to care about smaller things when they’re younger, they’ll care about larger things when they’re older. A lot of times, I learn a lot just from peoples’ questions. That’s why I like to host because there is always a question someone asks me that I don’t know – so we get to look it up and learn together.

FR: What are some of your favorite programs?

Monica: The geology programs. And really the animal programs, like “Awesome Animals.” And the programs that take you around the park, I like hiking in the park.

FR: So it sounds like all of them?

Monica: I was just about to say that! There’s a reason I’m here I guess. It’s kind of like playing, so if you enjoy it, it’s not work.

FR: Tell me a little bit about letterboxing?

Monica: For letterboxing you follow a set of clues to a letter box, in there you’ll find a stamp and a log book. You’ll have your own personal stamp and log book; you stamp the box stamp in yours and yours in theirs. So the letter-boxer can see everyone who has visited the letterbox and you have a collection of all the boxes you’ve found. The majority of clues can be found online at letterboxing.org or atlasquest.com.

FR: And you actually do more than just that, right?

Monica: I carve my own stamps. I like carving the stamps. I did some for the park; because its small we only have one trail but we switch out the stamps seasonally. There are four boxes here so you have the opportunity to get sixteen stamps. Those were the original ones which did have something to do with the park. Everything is local. For my personal ones, I’ve carved all sorts of different things. My personal stamp right now is a turtle, and the kids are a pterodactyl and a blue kangaroo. My favorite personal traveler is one my daughter made, which is a Rainbow Fairy Mommy with blue hair, which is funny because I had blue hair at one time.

FR: Last one, give us a fun fact.

I’ve been sledding on top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in July.


Next up, Monica is teaching the Rustic Arts classes, you can sign up for those classes at recreater.com

Categories: Meet the Staff | Tags: , , , , ,

Meet the Staff: Sam

sam-and-gloriaFR: What’s your job here at the Park?

Sam: I’m a Nature Program Instructor/ Animal Care Technician. I teach many classes at Fountain Rock, and I also take care of our wonderful animals in the nature center. I have also been working to develop our bee and wasp displays and am currently working on a project to create a bee hotel.

FR: Oooh, give us some more info on the bee hotel.

Sam: The hotel is going to be a sanctuary where many native Maryland bees can live. It’s going to be a small enclosure filled with natural wood and places for solitary bees to live. Bees are a very important pollinator in our world and we need to do what we can to help them survive. Pesticides have really degraded their immune system so any little help we can do is great.

FR: How did you get involved with the Park?

Sam: I was working in a lab and I was quite unhappy, I was working like six hours straight without seeing the sunlight; it was very depressing. So I quit my job, got an interview here and fell in love with the place. Being around great people, educating the public, and working outside makes me much happier. I fell in love with our observational bee hive in the nature center and through that I found my passion for doing bee research. I’ve actually taken some bee keeping classes and plan on applying to grad school to do bee research.

FR: Do you have any background in the outdoors?

Sam: I grew up doing Girl Scouts, my mother was our troop leader, so I was always involved with a lot of outdoor activities. After college and being out in the real world, you kind of lose sight of the importance of nature so this was a good opportunity to get back in touch with my more adventurous side. Nature is a place you can have an adventure in. You could be boring and have a desk job 9am-5pm paying off bills, but nature will always be there to give you an adventure and let you relax from the real world – if that makes sense.

FR: It does to us! Why is environmental education important to you?

Sam: It’s the future. One of the biggest problems facing our world and humanity is the pollution and destruction of our environment. And it’s important to educate the next generation so they can make changes for the better. We teach the importance of nature, how it does affect our day to day life and it’s not something that should be put behind a glass enclosure. You live in it and it will affect your everyday life. It’s important to nurture it for the next generation. We teach the younger ones about observation: it’s very easy to take a hike and tell yourself you didn’t see anything – it take a certain type of person to stop, observe and see what’s around us. That’s when you get to see all the life around us, the trees, the birds, the insects, the sounds.

FR: Reminds us of our own park. What are some of your favorite programs?

Sam: I really enjoy nature pals. It was the first class I taught by myself, it’s with the younger group of kids from 0 to 3. Its great being able to have the kids connect with nature but also seeing the parents being involved with it as well. It brings families together, and lets them enjoy what we have to offer.

FR: Last one, give us a fun fact.

Sam: My favorite animal is a fox. I have a fox tattoo, I have a dozen fox stuffed animals, I have a fox hat with fox ears. I’m known as the crazy fox lady. The reason why I love foxes so much, is because they’re a good representation for who I am. They’re mysterious and elegant creatures from afar yet when they open their mouths it’s nothing but screeches and giggling. (Editor’s note: When I first met Sam, she was indeed dressed in a fox costume.)

Categories: Meet the Staff | Tags: , , , , ,

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