Change comes slowly in Oxford, which is one of many reasons to live there. In the past few years, new operators for the restaurants once known as The Masthead and Schooner’s were among the “big” changes. Reasonable people can differ on whether this change was good or bad, but most would agree it had little impact, one way or another, in the quality of life in Oxford.
One change, the creation of Conservation Park in 2016, represented the type of change that can make lasting improvement to a community. The lovely park, complete with a paved walkway, native fauna, and lots of birds, offered a new way to experience Oxford. Even better, it was designed to be ecologically sound at the same time.
As is known by many and well-documented elsewhere, the creation of the park culminated a remarkable effort of visionaries in our community. What might have been questionable new development likely to undermine the quality of life in Oxford was transformed into a “passive park” that contributes to the clean-up of the Chesapeake, better air quality, and maintenance of our fragile ecology.
Although these benefits are enough by themselves to celebrate Conservation Park, the Park could do more for our community, without betraying the principles on which it was established. This would be done by getting more of us to visit the park, learn its lessons, and do more to protect the ecology that is central to what Oxford is.
To my surprise, when I visited the park last year, frequently with one of Oxford’s best Golden Doodles, Lucca, we were alone. My neighbors appear to either not know exactly what the park is or is for, or find it uninteresting. While this loss may be my gain, I fear if visits to the park don’t increase, the town might place a lower priority on its upkeep. Or, in my view something worse—not explore ways to make it even better.
One reason for solitude the park currently offers is that the county seems to be doing little to promote it. The Talbot County website, for example, limits its description of the park to this: “This natural park features walking trails, wetland viewing areas, native bird species, and open landscapes.” That’s it. This is accurate but, for most of us, less than compelling.
Already, without anyone having to do anything, Conservation Park is likely to be nicer this year than last. That’s because the trees and other plantings are now established and growing. In a few years there may even be shade on the walkway, which would be wonderful. This is all good, but more can be done. I won’t say should be done because changes to Conservation Park should be well-thought out, economically responsible, and consistent with the park’s theme—conservation.
Here are a few ideas:
First, a small section of the park near the existing parking lot could be opened for the planting of memorial trees. For a fee intended to pay for the tree itself, a plaque identifying the dedication for each tree, and a pool of funds to maintain the tree, an individual could memorialize a loved one or a cause. I would envision the tree would be planted by a professional nursery and selections would be limited to native Maryland trees. Additional maintenance, such as fertilizing and otherwise caring for the trees, and replacement of trees that die, might be included.
Second, a few more benches could be added around the park trail, providing welcome opportunities for walkers to take a break or to better observe or reflect on the beauty of the plants. These benches, preferably made from recycled materials, could be paid for by offering community members the opportunity to memorialize a loved one.
Third, enhance plantings and habitat to attract even more birds. Then formally encourage chapters and members of the Maryland Ornithological Society to sponsor collaborate on these efforts. The Society, and the Talbot Bird Club, could perhaps develop richer online resources about what birds live in the park and on when best to view them for the appropriate websites.
Fourth, working with local nurseries or colleges, perhaps schedule occasional nature talks where the ecology involved might be explained and promoted. Because the park is subject to the Program Open Spaces rules, which prohibit scheduled events, the talks would be scheduled for the Oxford Community Center with the attendees encouraged to walk to the park immediately afterwards. (The Community is an easy walk to park access trail next to the fire station).
The bottom line on these and other, probably better, activities, would be to get people to visit the park, learn what it is, use it, and love it.
J.E. Dean writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with nonprofits and others interested in domestic policy. Dean is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government. He resides in Oxford.