The Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue side of Parkland in southeast D.C.'s Congress Heights (Courtesy Photo)
The Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue side of Parkland in southeast D.C.'s Congress Heights (Courtesy Photo)

The National Park Service has announced plans to remake Parkland in Ward 8’s Congress Heights neighborhood and residents expressed their willingness to see changes take place.

“I think it is good that the National Park Service wants to revitalize the park,” said Salim Adofo, the chairman of advisory neighborhood commission 8C which encompasses Parkland. “Changes there are long overdue.”

Parkland, a part of the Shepherd Parkway, subsists as a 1.25-acre section of public land between Malcolm X Avenue SE, Parkland Place SE, and west of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. The park-like area has a small playground, benches and shaded grass areas. The National Park Service (NPS) has devised two concepts on upgrading the park. One involves a large playground, a fitness loop, a redone bus shelter and community space that could involve a garden. The other concept would have a smaller playground also but a new nature play area designed to accommodate people who wish to enjoy a more natural environment. Both concepts include picnic space, group gathering areas and an entry plaza.

On Oct. 20, officials with the National Park Service held a virtual meeting to discuss their proposals with the general public. Tara D. Morrison, the superintendent for National Capital Parks-East, stressed the importance of public input on Parkland’s future.

“It is extremely important that we have participation and engagement,” Morrison said. “The Parkland has been a concern for many years.”

Vanessa Farmer shared her concerns about those who frequent Parkland on a consistent basis.

“It seems to me that there are a number of non-community people there,” Farmer said.

In response to Farmer, Morrison said the NPS works with District government agencies and social service programs to aid those at Parkland appearing to need assistance. She said Parkland should not become an exclusive area.

“The park is welcoming to all people,” Morrison said.

Eric F. Johnson said more residents should be interested in the park’s appearance and how people utilize it.

“The people who run the Popeye’s and the owners of the liquor store and gas station should take more interest in it,” Johnson said. “Perhaps a dog park could be located there, too. I also feel the park should be renamed, perhaps to Malcolm X-Martin Luther King Jr. Park.”

Adofo expressed interest in Parkland recognizing the two civil rights icons in an official manner, also.

“It would be great for the park to have a memorial to Dr. King and Malcolm X,” Adofo said. “The avenues that bear their names intersect literally and figurately. There are few statutes or memorials to Black people in this city. Most statutes are of dead white men.”

Morrison said any changes in Parkland, whether a memorial or renaming the park, would have to be instigated by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s lawmaker in the U.S. Congress because it is a federal entity. She rejected Johnson’s idea of a dog park in Parkland, saying the NPS has no interest in that type of usage.

The official timeline of Parkland’s redoing consists of the public comment period closing on Nov. 20, followed by examining the input in the winter and spring and coming up with a final concept. In the summer of 2023, a second public session will be held to inform residents of the final concept. After that, construction on Parkland changes starts during the summer of 2025.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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