EAST NEW MARKET — The Grand Opening of East New Market’s Friendship Park was an event to remember. Excitement was palpable as the sun broke through the clouds; children sported flowers and ladybugs on their cheeks and ran to the playground. The hot dogs were ready and the town’s “balladeer” Pete Baker played music.
Mayor Caroline Cline opened the ribbon cutting ceremony with an announcement: “We’re going to be very informal because parks are by their very nature informal places.” Following the benediction by the Rev. George Ames the Mayor introduced Dorchester County Tourism Director Amanda Fenstermaker. Ms. Cline explained, “This park did not fall from the sky. It took a lot of cooperation, dedication for this to happen.”
Ms. Fenstermaker said, “About five years ago I sat across from Jake Day (former Director of Towns for the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy) and Jake had all of these great ideas.” She noted Mr. Day, current Salisbury City Council President, understood that people wanted to create “vibrant spaces in downtown communities.” She explained that the open land was once slated for development but with “hard work and partnerships” the town used grants and contributions to purchase the property now known as Friendship Park.
Mr. Day said the community and its leadership had: “One, a vision for a place that is protected, so we wouldn’t see this beautiful land go away; and two, we would have a community asset. I know it’s only begun.” Checking carefully that no one from Salisbury would hear him, Mr. Day said, “I’m so proud to stand here in the most beautiful town on the Delmarva Peninsula.”
Amy Owlsley, deputy director of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), congratulated the community noting, “This is a big deal!” and credited the town, its leadership, and Mayor Cline whom she described as “a true gem for the Eastern Shore.” She said, “We’ve been around for about 25 years and spent a lot of that time protecting farm and rural lands.” She explained how “Jake, Amanda, and Mayor Cline helped us learn how small towns can find their place and find projects that really show who they are. We point to East New Market as a place that has found its true calling with the engagement of the full community. The State, ESLC, and MD Heritage authority put funding in and the result is this park with more to come.”
The next phase is a walking trail and then a dog park, according to the Mayor, who expressed her gratitude to the 32 people or organizations who donated for the land acquisition. Among the first donors was the Caroline County Garden Club, noted Ms. Cline.
“The lifeblood of this district is in our small communities and the strength of those communities makes the difference on how we move the whole district forward. So the little commitment that you think you’ve made is a very big commitment,” said Delegate Addie Eckardt.
County Councilman Rick Price praised the park as “a true asset to the town and the whole north Dorchester area. It meets the needs I’ve been hearing about as a recreation venue for families and children to enjoy.”
Mayor Cline introduced Sen. Rich Colburn by describing his part in the town’s Streetscape project. “The state was expending roughly $8 million on improving our roads and installing brick sidewalks and period street lighting when that program was put on hold due to budgetary constraints. Right away we contacted Sen. Colburn and asked him to do everything humanly possible in Annapolis to get this back on track.” She described “buttonholing” the senator whenever she saw him, but believes it was through his intercession the project was completed.
Sen. Colburn chuckled, “She buttonholed me a lot.” Emphasizing that the future is in our children, he commended the town and elected officials “because it was a work in unison with the county and East New Market. I think Streetscape went through two or three governors before we got it.”
East New Market native Neil Frampton traveled from northeast Baltimore County to celebrate the park’s opening. He said, “Two hundred years ago one of the most popular horse racing tracks on the Eastern Shore started right here and went toward the new firehouse. Aerial photographs 200 years later still show a trace of it.”
Mr. Frampton added, “Sixty years ago there were no playgrounds; maybe a little bit at the high school, and the only two basketball courts were at the Rickwood House and the Hurley house.” He commended the town for the park’s creation.
To prepare for cutting the ribbon, three youngsters volunteered to lead the countdown. One, two, three! The ribbon was cut, all cheered, and the Grand Opening continued with music, face painting, and hot dogs from the town’s own vendor, Hound Dog.