A Community Effort for Placemaking on Smith Island

Planning Assistance in Action

Smith Island, home to the official dessert of Maryland, the aptly named Smith Island Cake, inhabits a unique position in Maryland’s physical and cultural geography. The only inhabited island in the Chesapeake Bay accessible solely by boat, Smith Island is a waterman community (fishing, crabbing, oystering) rich in history and identity. The community recently concluded a year-long visioning process that resulted in the adoption of the 2016 Smith Island Vision Plan. As part of this effort, one issue repeatedly came up; the desire for an outdoor gathering space on the Island. This vision is about to become reality, as a collaboration between community, business, and governmental organizations successfully applied for and received a $5,000 Placemaking Grant award from the National Association of REALTORS® to construct a pocket park on a currently vacant lot adjacent to a picturesque marsh in the Village of Ewell.

This project demonstrates the effectiveness of community and organizational partnerships. The Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR) is the official grant recipient, and is also contributing its own funds and the support of its staff to plan construction of the park. The Somerset County Recreation and Parks Department is similarly contributing funding, as well as a kiosk. Smith Island United, a community organization dedicated to the preservation of the island’s identity, will provide boat transportation to CAR members and other volunteers constructing the park. The Ewell Fire Department is contributing the land on which the park will be built. The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) learned of this grant and approached CAR with a concept for the project. Planning also assisted in the grant application, in the development of the concept plan, and in selecting and ordering the park equipment, as well as managing the logistics of transporting the items to the Island. Each of these pieces, seemingly small on their own, combine to form a powerful force for positive change.

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The park will benefit the Smith Island Community in numerous ways. Picnic tables, benches, a bike rack, trash receptacles, landscaping, and a kiosk; all of which are either funded by the grant or contributed by partner organizations, will bring the vacant lot to life. These new amenities will provide a gathering place for residents, promote physical activity, and create a space to simply sit and enjoy the beautiful view of the nearby marsh and its abundant wildlife. Focal spots such as this also cultivate a stronger sense of community by bringing neighbors and visitors together. The park will have significant economic benefits as well. Thousands of tourists visit the island every year for an experience not to be duplicated elsewhere. This placemaking pocketpark provides one more draw for visitors and encourages them to stay longer, rent bicycles, peruse the Island’s gift shops, and order takeout from a local restaurant for lunch on a new picnic table.

On May 12 of this year, known as Park Assembly Day, representatives of the partner organizations will gather at Crisfield Dock in Somerset County and ride a boat to Smith Island. Once there they will yet again team up to construct the new park, mirroring the collaboration used to leverage funding and resources for its development. This innovative project demonstrates that relatively small amounts of money and small plots of land can make a huge impact on a community if groups with similar interests come together to make it happen. For more on this project and Smith Island, please visit http://www.visitsmithisland.com/.

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