Written by Sarah Rayne, Government and Public Affairs Director, Coastal Association of REALTORS® Pocket Park on Smith Island
The Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR) is a big fan of NAR’s Placemaking Grant and has received funding for two community projects over the past two years.
As to the most recent project, our association was contacted by the local Maryland Department of Planning Office regarding a project opportunity on Smith Island, which is an island on the Chesapeake Bay that is only accessible by boat. The island has about 276 residents and relies heavily on its crabbing and tourism industries. Over the past two years, roughly 15,500 people have visited the island to explore its rich heritage, breathtaking wildlife, and delicious crab cakes, as well as the famed 10-layer Smith Island Cake, which is the official dessert of the State of Maryland.
The state was looking for funding to build what would be the island’s only park on a vacant, abandoned lot currently owned by the local fire department. The pocket park would feature picnic tables, benches, a bicycle rack, trash receptacles, and landscaping that can stand up to sometimes rough island conditions.
We applied for NAR’s Placemaking Grant and were approved for $5,000. Our association also contributed about $500 to the project. Somerset County partnered with us to contribute $200 and an information kiosk. And Smith Island United, which is a citizens group made up of island residents, provided boat transportation for our member volunteers to travel to the island to construct the park.
We then worked with the Department of Planning to order the park equipment and landscaping, and have it all shipped to the island. The islanders graciously built all the equipment once it was shipped and stored it in the firehouse. All that was left was to build the park.
On June 13, 2017, a group of REALTORS® and association staff members traveled to the island to help build the project. It was our third attempt as we had to reschedule the build day twice due to rain. We bought custom blue hats featuring our logo and the REALTOR® R for all the volunteers to wear. A few members brought their kids for the community service learning opportunity.
To start things off, members hauled the constructed park equipment from its storage location at the fire house to the vacant lot.
Then everyone pitched in to plant shrubs and grasses along the exterior of the park.
We finished our work by setting the stakes for the information kiosk in concrete and planting a few more shrubs around the kiosk area.
After the work was done, volunteers posed for a group photo with the signs that will hang from the kiosk. One sign included our logo and another one was from Somerset County declaring the park as part of their “Trail Mix” program that encourages a healthy lifestyle through outdoor exploration and activities.
In appreciation of the hard work and funding that went into the project, the islanders presented the association with a beautiful plaque that features an aerial photo of the island.
Everyone was pleased with the final product – the island’s first park.
The day wrapped up with a tour of the island’s Visitor’s Center, museum, and historic Methodist church. The volunteers then enjoyed a traditional Smith Island lunch of crab cake sandwiches and Smith Island cake.
This project served to greatly extend our outreach and overall goals as an association of providing opportunities for our members to give back to their communities. Many of our members are involved in community service. It’s important to them and we want to help identify funding and projects that will get them involved and interacting with the public. NAR’s Placemaking Grant is an invaluable resource. We were happy to provide association funding for the project, but it was the grant from NAR that truly made this idea become a reality.