In Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for Washington, the square now known as Lincoln Park was to contain a monument, a point from which all distances in North America could be measured. Today, the large park with two distinct monuments – one to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, another to educator and government official Mary McLeod Bethune – is generally not thought of as central to the continent. But it is central to the neighborhood and to the neighbors, families and visitors who come there, sometimes many times a day.
One of those neighbors, Jeni Schoemaker, has begun the process of establishing a Friends of Lincoln Park group, which would work in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) to program, maintain and improve the park. Schoemaker said that two of the reasons she and her family moved to the neighborhood were the community and the park – and a friends group helps to build both.
After trying for years to reach out to NPS, Schoemaker found contact information for Vince Vaise, chief of visitor services at National Capital Parks-East. Ranger Vince’s name was attached to an event notice in the park itself. Schoemaker reached out directly to him in early February and started chatting about the potential within the park. “He’s so passionate about the park – it’s great,” she said.
Vaise put her in touch with other interested neighbors, including Karen Cohen, who recently established the Adopt-an-Urn program, which cares for the park’s planter urns, and Sandra Mosoco Mills, who organizes the annual Walk to School and Bike to School events. Schoemaker also put a call out on neighborhood Listservs, including Mothers on The Hill (MoTH).
On Feb. 28, Vaise met with a group of about six people in the park to hold a walk-about meeting to look at ways that a friends group could contribute to maintenance, improvements and programming.
The group has spent time asking neighbors what they want to see accomplished in Lincoln Park. As a result of notices on Listservs and Facebook groups, about 20 interested people gathered at the first open meeting, on April 5, at Northeast Library.
In order to act in partnership with NPS, the friends group must be approved by the NPS Partnership Office. The group must also be registered as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit.
Schoemaker says the enthusiasm has been excellent both at NPS and around the neighborhood. She wants to reach out to people with diverse backgrounds. “Many people I’ve connected with have backgrounds similar to my own,” she said, noting that she has two small children. “We’re not going to do something for just one demographic,” she added.
More than 200 friends groups partner with NPS nationwide. They carry out projects and programs in neighborhood parks, including planning and hosting special programs and events, supporting critical research and restoration projects, enhancing educational opportunities and raising funds to rehabilitate old structures, repair playground and recreational equipment and build visitor facilities.
Schoemaker’s immediate priorities are improvements to the two playgrounds in the park and the open space throughout. “We have less open space for kids to play than any other parks,” she said, “and you hear about kids hurting themselves tripping on tree roots and the like.”
In addition to fixing up the playground equipment, she hopes to have an inclusive playground built which will benefit all children, including those with access or mobility challenges.
She also hopes to offer regular Ranger Story Times, start movie nights and purchase recycling and solar trash compacting bins. Ranger Vince already has plans to lead a bike tour of the Capitol Hill parks. Other plans include improvements to park kiosks and benches, many of which are broken or in need of refinishing. “With a group in Lincoln Park we can push a little harder to get it through,” Schoemaker said.
The friends may also work to expand community knowledge of the park, she adds. At the Emancipation Day event held on April 16 in the park, Ranger Vince conducted a flashlight tour exploring the hidden symbols and stories in the Emancipation Statue, which has stood in the park since 1876. “The community can learn a lot about the park,” Schoemaker said, “about the history of the park, and what’s going on with it.
Members of the nascent group provided community input and helped NPS publicize the April 16 event, which included children’s activities and a recreation of the 1876 statue dedication, complete with appearances by actors portraying President Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass, who delivered the keynote address. It was the first in a series of events they hope to put on with the parks agency.
But while members continue to dream up ways to contribute to the park, practical matters concerning NPS approval and not-for-profit registration are ongoing. The Friends of Lincoln Park seeks two more official board members in addition to Schoemaker to reach the three required to register as a 501(c)3 organization. They also need to raise the application fee of $750.
Nonprofit status is required to raise funds and to apply for many relevant grants, Schoemaker notes. “As a nonprofit we could donate equipment or fund recurring movie nights,” she said, noting that she is not sure how she will raise the funds for the application fee, though she has considered a gofundme effort.
For Schoemaker, getting involved was an easy decision. “We live in the park,” she said. “We’re here two to three times a day.” She just needed to figure out the best way to contribute to the space at the center of the community. “There is a lot of involvement in the neighborhood and people who want to get involved but don’t know how,” she said. “And there’s so much more going on with Lincoln Park.”
Help build the Friends of Lincoln Park. For more information, to express interest in joining or becoming a board member or to learn how to contribute in other ways, visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lincolnparkdc/ or email FriendsofLincolnParkDC@gmail.com.