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Montgomery Parks Speaker Series

Most recent presentation

Montgomery Parks October Speaker series looks at the topic of birding and how to make sure the popular past time is accessible to everyone.  Freya McGregor of Access Birding joins us to discuss ways to increase access and inclusion for disabled birders.

Freya McGregor Access Birding Tuesday, October 17, 2023

About the Speaker:


Freya McGregor (she/her), OTR/L, CIG is a military spouse, a disabled birder and an occupational therapist. Freya co-founded the nonprofit Birdability, and now provides consulting and training through her business
Access Birding to empower birders and nature organizations to be confident agents of change in improving access and inclusion for disabled birders. Her clinical background is in blindness and low vision services, and her ‘dodgy’ knee creates an access challenge for her. Freya is a research associate in the Dayer Human Dimensions Lab at Virginia Tech, involved in research related to access, inclusion, disability and birding, and using birding as a therapeutic tool. She has written about access, inclusion, disability and birding for Audubon magazine, Birding magazine, and the LA Times, and is currently writing A Field Guide to Accessible Birding in the United States, to be published by Princeton University Press — the first bird finding guide written by a disabled birder for disabled birders. Connect with her on Instagram @the.ot.birder

Previous Presentations

View the recorded presentation “What a Pickle! Balancing the demand for pickleball and tennis in parks”

Alex Kerman, David Robinson, Stacie West, spoke on September 8, 2023

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S and in Montgomery County. That explosion in  popularity has sparked competition for court time in public parks.  Our panel of experts looks at all sides of the issue and discusses possible ways communities can work through the challenge.  Topics will include what’s happening in the Washington, DC area pickleball scene;  how other communities are responding to demand for courts and concerns about noise related to pickleball; and we’ll hear how one city is responding to the issue. Panel members: Alex Kerman, Director, Business Operations and Research for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association; David Robinson, Director of Racquet Sports for Little Falls Swim and Racquet Club in Bethesda; Stacie West, parks principal planner for Denver Parks and Recreation.

View the recorded presentation “Juneteenth:  Celebrating the Past and Present”

LaTisha Gasaway-Paul spoke on May 31, 2023

A look into the history of the Scotland community in Potomac, one of the first places in Montgomery County where African Americans owned land.   Scotland resident LaTisha Gasaway-Paul discusses the neighborhood’s  triumphs and cultural treasures, as well as how an interfaith community is working to save its history.  Gasaway-Paul will also discuss this year’s upcoming Scotland Juneteenth Heritage festival and how organizers are working toward making it the premiere Juneteenth celebration in the Washington D.C. area.

View the recorded  presentation – “Tracking the Spotted Lanternfly: On the trail of the destructive insect”

Kenton Sumpter – spoke on April 25, 2023

The spotted lanternfly is a non-native, invasive, sap-eating insect that is considered a nuisance to humans and a threat to plants. They can swarm on trees and structures in the thousands, leaving behind a sticky residue. The lanternfly feeds on over 80 plant species including trees, fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. It was first found in Maryland in 2018 in Cecil County. It has now spread to 16 counties including Montgomery. Join Kenton Sumpter, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to learn all about the spotted lanternfly, including its impacts on the environment and what the state of Maryland is doing to manage it. Attendees will also learn about its migration strategies.

View the recorded presentation – “Birding in Maryland: Gabriel Foley, Atlas Coordinator, Maryland – D.C. Breeding Bird Atlas”

Gabriel Foley, spoke on March 22, 2023 

Maryland and DC are home to over 200 species of breeding birds, from brilliant goldfinches to feisty terns to secretive nightjars. The Maryland-DC Bird Breeding Atlas is a five-year project documenting the distribution, abundance, and timing of each of the region’s breeding species. This intensive, community-science project will produce the most detailed picture yet of where and when our birds are nesting. And, since this is the third time an atlas has been conducted in Maryland and DC, the results can be compared to past efforts to show changes to bird populations. During this presentation, atlas coordinator Gabriel Foley will provide an overview of the project and discuss how you can document and support nesting birds in your own yard.

View the recorded presentation – “Coming of Age: Post-Pandemic Public Art” 

Jack Becker spoke on February 22, 2023
Public art is visible evidence of our shared humanity. Creative expression in the public sphere can act as a cultural barometer of sorts, revealing the values, beliefs or power struggles in any given society. During the pandemics of COVID and racial injustice in 2020, while most traditional arts venues were shuttered, the vibrant field of public art continued to expand and evolve. Jack Becker will share insights gained during his 45-year career in the public art field. He will offer a brief overview of trends and issues in the field, illustrate what makes successful public art and engage audience members in a dialogue about critical challenges and emerging opportunities.

On the Brink: Maryland’s Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species

Monday, January 30, 2023, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | View the presentation Maryland’s Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species

Over 1,200 species have been listed as rare, threatened, or endangered in Maryland. Join Kerry Wixted, a naturalist with over 15 years of experience studying the flora and fauna of Maryland to learn how the Maryland Natural Heritage Program ranks and manages rare species in the state. This session will also cover a few ways to help with the conservation of rare species and their habitats.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy TIDES Program

Wednesday, December 14, 2022, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. | View the presentation-TIDES Program
Join Haley McClanahan and Elizabeth Harnett from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy to learn about the success of the TIDES (Teens Interested and Dedicated to Environmental Stewardship) program, including how the program got started, the goals and how participants have helped to shape it to what it is today.

Miami’s Underline: Meg Daly, Friends of the Underline Founder and Isabel Castilla, Principal at James Corner Field Operations
Wednesday, November 9, 2022, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. | View a recording of the presentation

  • Join Meg Daly, founder of the Friends of the Underline to learn how Miami’s 10-mile linear park went from an idea to a reality. In this presentation, Daly will shed light on the importance of community engagement throughout the process, how they were able to raise funds for this project and the process for developing and programming the space.

Denver Parks and Recreation: Navigating Social Issues Impacting Parks
Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. | View the presentation Navigating Social Issues Impacting Parks

  • Join Denver Parks and Recreation staff for a compelling presentation about how they are successfully navigating social issues impacting park users, including the department’s alcohol policy and an empathetic approach to enforcement of people experiencing homelessness in parks.

The September 11 National Memorial Trail: From Vision to Reality
Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. | View a recording of the presentation September 11 National Memorial Trail

  • David Brickley, the founder and president emeritus of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance presented about how this trail went from vision to reality. Over the course of two decades, Brickley has worked tirelessly to create a 1,300-mile trail connecting the three September 11 sites. In October 2021, the trail was federally designated with legislation signed by President Joe Biden. The trail serves as a tribute to the fallen heroes who perished on September 11, 2001, and the many heroes who committed themselves to the response for their country.

Mapping Environmental Justice Concerns in Maryland
Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | View a recording of the presentation-Mapping Environmental Justice Concerns

  • Dr. Sacoby Wilson, Director of the Center for Community Engagement Environmental Justice & Health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health gave a stimulating presentation about the ongoing development and implementation of the environmental justice mapping tool MD EJSCREEN. Dr. Wilson’s presentation highlights how the mapping tool was built, why it’s needed, and how it has been used by community members, legal advocates, policymakers, and government agency officials.

Tony Hillery | How Harlem Revolutionized Urban Farming
Tuesday, March 1, 2022 

  • Meet Tony Hillery, founder, and CEO of Harlem Grown, a nonprofit based in Harlem, NY, inspires youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition. Tony will share the story of how Harlem Grown came to be — from the early days of building the first farm, to now 12 gardens across Harlem, including one hydroponic “farm of the future”.

Reimagining the Civic Commons: The Power of Public Places Where Everyone Belongs
Tuesday, February 15, 2022

  • Montgomery Parks presents a panel presentation about how parks and public spaces are uniquely positioned to provide the opportunity for new shared connections and social interactions with groups from different backgrounds, nurturing greater tolerance and an appreciation for diversity. The session will be moderated by Bridget Marquis, director of Reimagining the Civic Commons (pictured far left), and will feature panelists (pictured left to right) George Abbott, director of external affairs at Memphis River Parks Partnership, Alexa Bush, program officer at The Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program and, Demetrius Lambert-Falconer, Chief of Community Engagement at Summit Metro Parks.

Julie Boland | NRPA Trends in Parks and Recreation 2022
Wednesday, January 12, 2022 | View the presentation online NRPA Trends in Parks and Recreation 2022

  • Join Montgomery Parks and Julia Boland from the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) to learn about the upcoming trends in parks and recreation for 2022. Each year NRPA uses analytics and field insights to create predictions for the following year. Join us for a front seat about what may be in store for the coming year.

Michael Wiggins | Little Island: Using Art, Nature, and Community to Engage, Educate and Employ
Tuesday, December 7, 2021 | View the presentation online Little Island

  • In 2013, Barry Diller envisioned a solution for the repair and reactivation of Pier 54, recently damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Diller chose to reimagine an entirely new type of public space for New York, one that would create an immersive experience with nature and art. Little Island opened to the public this spring and the park is on track to welcome more than 1.5 million visitors before the end of the year. Michael Wiggins, Director of Education and Community Engagement, will share insights into the social impact of this unique public space and discuss how the park’s commitment to hospitality is a through-line.

Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa and Jennifer Holz | How Parks can ensure Longer and Healthier Lives
Tuesday, May 18, 2021 | View the presentation online How Parks can ensure Longer and Healthier Lives

  • As life expectancy continues to increase around the world, individuals can hope to spend one third of their lives post 60 years old. Cities, parks, and recreation play an important role in shaping one’s quality of life. Parks, in particular provide health, wellness, and socialization opportunities, yet only 4% of park users in the U.S. are over the age of 60. Speakers Gil Penalosa, Founder and Chair, 880 Cities, and Jennifer Holz, Associate State Director for Outreach, AARP Maryland, will explain what it means for a community to be Age-Friendly and the work that must continue post-pandemic to ensure communities break down barriers to become more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive for everyone.

Patsy Eubanks Owens | “We Just Want to Play”: Envisioning Teen Spaces in Public Parks
Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | View the presentation online Envisioning Teen Spaces in Public Parks

  • Adolescence is a key stage of life. As young people transition from children to adults, their public environments play a critical role in their emotional and social development. However, teenagers have largely been overlooked, or even excluded, from public spaces through design and policy practices. Patsy Eubanks Owens, Associate Dean and Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design at University of California, Davis, has dedicated her career to exploring the role that the physical environment has on the development, health, and well-being of youth. Co-editor of “The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People,” Owens will share insight into the needs teenagers have, ways to address those needs through park design, and the importance of bringing youth into the design and planning process.

Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, MBA, Ph Dhc, CSP | Post-COVID People, Parks & Cities: Learnings from the Pandemic

March 23, 2021  | View the presentation online Learnings from the Pandemic

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the necessity of parks and open space, but also magnified issues that have long existed including lack of equity, poverty, deficiency of parks in quantity and quality, shortage of recreation programs, poor sidewalks, unsustainable mobility, and unsafe streets. Gil Penalosa, founder and chair of 880 Cities, sees this current moment as one of great opportunity for cities to become more equitable and sustainable.  Penalosa will share examples of how cities around the world have responded to the pandemic and build the case for why leaders must act now and make difficult changes to create, plan, and manage cities radically different.

Paul M. Farber  | Confronting the Past:  A Conversation on the Past, Present, and Future Role of Monuments & Art in Public Spaces
December 4, 2020 | View the presentation online-Confronting the Past

  • Communities across the country are grappling with determining how to reconcile their present values with the historic monuments, statues, and art that symbolize racism and oppression. Paul Farber, Director of Monument Lab, a public art and history studio that cultivates and facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments, will share insight into the current movement to reexamine and reflect on our nation’s monuments. Farber will share some of Monument Lab’s recent work, and offer strategies and steps for organizations to consider to influence the next generation of public monuments that reflect stories of social justice and equity.

Heidi Vonblum and Jonathan Avila
Building a Framework for the Future: San Diego’s Parks Master Plan
October 26, 2020 

  • The City of San Diego is in the process of completing a new comprehensive Parks Master Plan. Like many cities throughout the country, San Diego has experienced a population surge, and is increasingly becoming more diverse and urban.  Heidi Vonblum, Environmental Policy & Public Spaces Program Manager, and Jonathan Avila, RLA, Park Designer,  led a team tasked with developing a new master plan to meet the City’s changing recreational needs.  Their goal was to address access to and enjoyment of parks for all genders, abilities, and ages.  Vonblum and Avila will share insight into their planning process and discuss the plan’s innovative strategies; including the reimagination of park standards that prioritize recreational value over acreage, and a new citywide Park Development Impact Fee allowing the City to invest in parks strategically to deliver more parks faster to the areas that need them the most.

Linda Hwang | The Heat Is On: How Disparities in Park Access are Creating a Public Health Crisis
September 29, 2020  | View the presentation online Disparities in Park Access are Creating a Public Health Crisis

  • As the country grapples with both a pandemic, and record-setting temperatures, the physical and mental benefits that parks provide are evident.   However not everyone has equal access to green spaces, and not all parks are created equal.  A new report from The Trust for Public Land (TPL), reveals that across the nation, parks serving primarily communities of color are half the size, and nearly five times as crowded, as parks that serve majority white populations.  This disparity is creating a public health emergency.  Linda Hwang, Director, Strategy & Innovation, TPL, will present key findings from the groundbreaking report and share how this information is being used by park systems to address equity.

Liz Thorstensen and Richard Edwards | Creating Connectivity:  The Power of Trails
May 18, 2020  | View the presentation online The Power of Trails

  • Trails link communities, serve as transportation corridors, provide accessible recreation opportunities, and generate health and economic benefits.  During the current COVID-19 crisis, trail usage has soared, amplifying the need for this critical amenity. Liz Thorstensen, Vice President of Trail Development at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), and Richard Edwards, Trail Solutions Director of Construction & Operations at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), will discuss how trail systems have adapted to serve as safe spaces in response to COVID-19, and provide insight into what the future holds for trail usage.  They will share best practices in trail planning and development for both hard surface and natural surface trails, and detail the elements that create a successful, world-class trail network, including tools for equitable trail planning and the importance of community activation and programming.

Kate Tooke | Balancing Safety and Adventure in the Modern Playspace
January 17, 2020 | View the presentation online Balancing Safety and Adventure in the Modern Playspace

  • A good park invites children to explore, discover, adventure and play. These are critical components of youth development. Unfortunately decades of American risk aversion has led to the proliferation of cookie-cutter “safe” playgrounds that fail to inspire even the most basic of play activities. Kate Tooke, a landscape architect and associate principal at Sasaki will share the latest research and case studies on the importance of designing play spaces that nurture healthy risk. Drawing from Sasaki’s research lab on urban playscapes, as well as several case studies of the firm’s recent work around the country, her presentation will explore how innovative design techniques can work within current safety guidelines to provide exciting playscapes that nurture the physical, social and emotional development of the 21st Century child.

Adam Ortiz | Aiming for Zero Waste: The Future of Recycling and Sustainability in Montgomery County
December 2, 2019 | View the presentation online

  • At a time when jurisdictions across the nation are reconsidering aspects of their recycling programs, Montgomery County is continuing its commitment to increase recycling and reduce trash.  Adam Ortiz, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, will share insight into the current state of the county’s waste management and sustainability initiatives and how those compare to other jurisdictions in the nation.  Ortiz will detail the challenges, trends and innovations happening in this area and provide an update on the county’s “Aiming for Zero Waste Plan.”

Tim Marshall |  Operational Sustainability: Best Practices in Public Space Management
November 6, 2019 View the presentation online

  • Vibrant parks and public spaces that offer more and more amenities are on the rise, but traditionally operations funding has not kept up.   Accommodating visitors, their needs and special events while balancing the needs of landscapes can be challenging.  Tim Marshall, principal and owner of ETM Associates, LLC and former Deputy Administrator and Vice President for New York City’s Central Park Conservancy, explains the variables in design quality, programming, facilities and maintenance that can achieve “operational sustainability” and lead a public space to flourish and rise above the rest.

Neelay Bhatt | Building a Culture of Guest Service Excellence
April 30, 2019 | 

View the presentation online

  • In today’s socially wired and hypercompetitive market, customer experience is paramount to an agency’s success.  Neelay Bhatt, Vice President and Principal of PROS Consulting  Inc., discusses ways to build a customer service culture and differentiate your agency from the competition.  Neelay’s career on five continents includes Disney, The Super Bowl, The Olympics, besides several years of consulting, public speakers and training. TEDx, the global platform for ideas, describes him as a business and communications visionary, and his service on the National Recreational and Park Association’s Board of Directors is committed to ensuring that ‘no child is left indoors.”

Ed McMahon The Case for Open Space – March 15, 2019 

View the presentation online

  • Ed McMahon, Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute shares insights into the economic, social and environmental impacts of parks and open space.  Learn how parks increase long-term real estate value, but also how some of this value can be captured to mitigate the impacts of commercial and residential gentrification.  The session will also examine “trail-oriented development” and the impacts of active transportation and micro mobility.

Mikah Meyer and Sangita Chari | Championing Inclusion in the Outdoors
February 26, 2019 

  • Adventurer Mikah Meyer is closing in on the end of a three-year journey to experience all 418 National Park Service sites. He is set to become the first person to do so in a continuous journey.  His odyssey began as a way to mark his father’s passing from cancer and honor his dad’s love of road trips.  Meyer began blogging his journey, taking audiences along with him on his trek across America’s public lands.   His journey quickly became a source of inspiration, encouraging people to live their dreams and shed an important light into the LGBT experience in the outdoors.   Similarly, the National Park Service (NPS) is on its own mission to promote inclusion in the outdoors. Sangita Chari, oversees the NPS’s Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion.  The office was formed in 2013 to address the underrepresentation of diverse racial and ethnic groups among National Park staff and visitors. Chari will share insight into the steps NPS has implemented and the agency’s future plans to ensure that the national parks remain relevant and open to all Americans.

Sheema Hai and Albert Arevalo | Engaging Diverse Audiences in Parks and Outdoor Recreation
January 25, 2019 | View the presentation online

  • According to a recent National Park report, Non-Hispanic white visitors make up the largest demographic of visitors to national parks.  This trend is mirrored for parks and recreation agencies around the country as many struggle to attract a more diverse audience. The issues are deep rooted and proving difficult to crack.  This session will explore how agencies might  address this challenge.  Sheema Hai, Cultural Competence and Inclusion Advocate, and Albert Arevalo, Program Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, will examine misconceptions and stereotypes, current trends, and insights into the work being done to make outdoor recreation more inclusive.

Jason Roberts  Building A Better Block
November 16, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Jason Roberts’ session entitled “Building A Better Block” will share insights on how to revitalize neighborhoods as walkable, vibrant community centers.  He and his team travel to cities  around the country and abroad and work with citizens, area artists and businesses to reimagine where they live, work and play.  The session will also examine the recent work that the Better Block Foundation did right here in our area.   In October, members of the Randolph Hills Civic Association worked with the Montgomery County Parks & Planning Departments and The Better Block Foundation team to turn the Randolph Hills Shopping Center Parking lot into a community gathering place for two days.   You can learn more about the project and see the incredible transformation in this video.
    • Jason Roberts is an artist, civic activist and urban designer whose life’s work has been dedicated to the creation of healthy, vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods.  Jason has received a Champions of Change award from the US White House, showcased in the 2012 Venice Biennale, and was listed in Planetizen’s Top 100 Most Influential Urbanists. 

David Barth The Benefits of High-Performance Public Spaces
October 3, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Learn about creating High-Performance Public Spaces (HPPSs) which help to generate economic, environmental, and social sustainability benefits for the local community.
    • Dr. David Barth is the Principal of Barth Associates. He is a registered Landscape Architect, Certified Planner, and Certified Parks and Recreation Professional who specializes in the planning, design, and implementation of the public realm.

Scott Kratz and Jim FosterDesign: 11th St. Bridge Park and Anacostia Watershed Society
July 18, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Could an old bridge be turned into a park? That’s what community activist Scott Kratz wants to achieve. He’s been working with Washington DC government and Building Bridges Across the River, a Ward 8-based non-profit, to transform an old freeway bridge into a park above the Anacostia River.  Jim Foster is the president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.  The Anacostia Watershed Society is committed to cleaning the water, restoring the short and honoring the heritage of the Anacostia River. The society’s goal is to help make the river fishable and swimmable by 2025.

Lieutenant Nicole Adams and Sergeant Sabrina Pirtle, Maryland-National Capital Park Police |  Safety in the Parks
June 6, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Lt. Adams and Sgt. Pirtle will provide insight into the Maryland-National Capital Park Police operations. The park police patrol and protect more than 36,000 acres of land and 14 million visitors each year. The session will also include park safety tips and information about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies. CPTED is an approach that examines ways environmental design can deter criminal behavior.

Beth Shogren and Stacie West Parks, Placemaking and Economic Development: Using Public-Private Partnerships to Create Signature Park Experiences
April 17, 2018 | View the presentation online.

  • The panel will examine the critical role of memorable, activated parks in placemaking and economic development. How do well-located and well-designed parks and open spaces brand cities and neighborhoods? How do they contribute to the overall economic sustainability and livability of our urban areas, and make our county a desirable and enjoyable place to live and work? We will discuss successful examples of public-private partnerships in achieving these goals.

Gil Penalosa | Urban Trail and Park Systems
February 21, 2018 View the presentation online

  • Deeply passionate about cities being for all people, Gil Penalosa has guided decision makers from around the world on how to create healthy, vibrant and sustainable communities that can be enjoyed by all. Penalosa believes in parks and streets as great public spaces, and puts emphasis on sustainable mobility like walking, cycling and public transit.
    • Gil Penalosa is the founder and chair of the internationally-recognized Canadian non-profit organization 8 80 cities. He is also chair of World Urban Parks.

Peter Harnik  | January 17, 2018
The Need for Great Urban Parks Presentation 

  • Peter Harnik is the founder of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which he directed until his retirement in 2016. He is the author of Urban Green, Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities and Inside City Parks, a book about the park and recreation systems of the 25 largest U.S. cities. He was co-creator of the ParkScore methodology of rating urban park systems across the nation and co-founder of City Parks Alliance. Previous to TPL, he was co-founder of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and coordinator of Environmental Action, Inc. He is currently writing a history of the rails-to-trails movement in the United States.