Residents in the community surrounding Fort Greble Recreation Center in Southeast have long advocated for upgrades to their shuttered neighborhood facility, even as they saw District officials celebrate the revamping of nearby Oxon Run Park and Anacostia Park.
Many parents, like Charnel Chaney, said they lament traveling miles outside their neighborhood for their children to enjoy rock climbing walls, zip lines, and other amenities. That’s why, out of regard for her neighbors, Chaney, a trauma-informed yoga practitioner, moved her yoga events from Anacostia Park to Fort Greble Park earlier this year.
This past summer, more than a decade after Fort Greble Recreation Center closed, Chaney hosted a game day and six yoga sessions at Fort Greble Park. She recounted seeing an abandoned garden and broken geyser where children used to jump around in water shooting out of the ground.
Given the park’s enormous size, Chaney said it has potential as a place that her children and other students at nearby Leckie Elementary School could visit. However, it would take some investments from the District, little of which she has seen.
“You just don’t feel the love at Fort Greble Recreation Center that you would feel at other recreation centers,” Chaney said.
“The swings could be redone. I want the city to do something with that whole space in the back where there’s supposed to be a community garden. We need to activate the park. It could be a safe space for children if they did some upgrades.”
Looking at the Bigger Picture
In 2017, DPR presented plans for the Fort Greble Urban Nature Center to ANC 8D, which includes the Bellevue and Highland communities. The net-zero facility would consist of geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient LEED lighting, clearstory windows, and other energy-saving amenities. The property would also include a playground, community garden, basketball and tennis courts, and a connection to a nature walk path.
ANC Commissioner Monique Diop (8D07) said budget constraints prevented the project from coming to fruition. In addition, changes within DPR’s project management team complicated efforts to receive updates about Fort Greble Recreation Center, especially after the pandemic started.
Since then, Fort Greble Recreation Center’s status has been in limbo, with some residents not quite clear about whether it’s open to the public. A DPR spokesperson said DPR officials are working with the Department of General Services and a design/build firm on a redesign plan, but a timeline for facility upgrades hasn’t been established.
In 2020, DPR launched its Ready2Play Master Plan, which will eventually include evaluating DPR spaces and identifying short- and long-term capital investment needs. A city official who requested anonymity said residents have complained about DPR facilities, including Marvin Gaye Park and North Michigan Park Recreation Center, both in Northeast, and the facilities at Potomac Gardens Apartments in Southeast.
Legislation that D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) introduced in October strives to complement the Ready2Play Master Plan by increasing transparency in the process.
On Wednesday, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Recreation, Public Libraries, and Youth Affairs conducted a public hearing on the bill titled the Planning Actively for Recreational upKeep so Neighborhood Resources Elevate Communities Act, or PARKSNREC Act. If the bill passes, DPR would be required to develop a capital improvement plan that aligns with Ready2Play, includes residents’ insight, and meets the surrounding community’s needs.
The legislation would also require the mayor to invest in recreational facilities based on need and expected community growth.
Henderson said that after hearing community members’ frustrations about the conditions of their recreation facilities, she wanted to create a situation where they would no longer have to depend solely on their council member’s political savvy to secure upgrades to their facilities.
“As we move toward the end of the pandemic, more people want to spend time outside, either by themselves or their children,” Henderson said.
“We have some spaces that are underutilized in communities because they haven’t received financial investment. If we’re committed to bringing community amenities to all eight wards, this is a step we have to take in a fair and transparent way.”
Residents Continue to Demand a Safe Space
In the years leading up to the pandemic, Natasha Yates has attempted to get DPR to open Fort Greble Recreation Center during after-school hours for Leckie Elementary students. However, as she recalls, DPR hasn’t responded to her requests.
As founder of the nonprofit D.I.V.A.S. IN SISTAHOOD, Yates connects single parents with transitional housing and helps them address issues that attract the attention of the DC Child and Family Services Agency.
In her role, Yates also coordinates year-round, family-friendly programming at Fort Greble Park. However, without an open recreation center, patrons often cannot use the restroom and fully enjoy Easter egg hunts, back-to-school functions, and other celebrations.
That’s why Yates said she and her neighbors deserve a safe, high-quality neighborhood park and recreation center. For her, this issue becomes more pressing amid concerns about gun violence that discourage parents from sending their children half a mile away to Bald Eagle Recreation Center.
“I don’t know how the recreation center looks from the inside, but it’s not a good look on the outside,” Yates said.
“During the daytime in the spring and summer, people are back there cooking out, but the park being open all night isn’t safe. There are gunshots going off all night. DPR keeps its part clean, but the federal part is forgotten.”