By: Bianca Holland
When you hear the name College Park, what do you immediately think of? Is it the well-known and prestigious University of Maryland, known to be a great research university with an outstanding student population? Or are you reminded of the Comcast Center that holds many school functions, concerts, and basketball games? There’s more to this traditional city than just the hype of its Maryland flagship campus; there are people in the community who make up a city full of love and pride, and those people make College Park “a smart place to live.”
College Park has officially branded itself as “a smart place to live,” according to CollegeParkmd.gov. Incorporated as a city in 1945, College Park is a historical place that was settled over 200 years ago. It has grown into the second largest city in Prince Georges County, covering five square miles and having a population of over 24,000 people. College Park sits in close proximity to both D.C. and Baltimore, which can be seen as a great asset for students and residents.
“The residents themselves are a very educated bunch; even leaving out the college students, three fifths have attended at least some college, and one in five has an advanced degree, which we thought was very impressive,” states Matt McDermott, creative director for College Park.
The population has increased so much that Prince Georges County officials are bringing Capital Bikeshare to the area. Luz Lazo states, “The plan is to install 10 bike stations with 62 bikes across the city, including six stations on university property and one at the College Park metro station.” Despite the efforts to accommodate the rapidly growing city, we can’t forget the heart of College Park, and the slice of love that its old and new residents has to offer.
As I get off the Route 1 exit heading into College Park, I see so many people walking around with their phones glued to their hands and earphones plugged in their ears. Everything seems to be in fast-forward mode here. The people walk fast, drive fast, and eat fast because fast food restaurants crowd the town. They are only slowed down or paused by traffic lights. A University of Maryland shuttle pulls up next to me at a red light, the friendly driver looks over to greet me with a smile and head nod. There’s an illustration on the shuttle with a roaring terrapin that reads “Maryland, Raise High The Black and Gold Pride.” I smiled to myself and thought, here goes nothing. I have entered terrapin country.
The light turned green and the shuttle driver and I parted ways. Coming from Stevenson University, a school with an extremely compact campus, UMD seems totally different from what I’m used to. Confusion clouded my mind as I drove in circles trying to find somewhere to park. UMD was like a monopoly game, every corner had a different building and finding a parking spot was like obtaining a “get out of jail free card,” because you were lucky if you found one out of a full deck. Coincidentally, I found a parking spot near “Baltimore Hall,” a residence dorm building for students. Michelle called my phone badgering me with questions. “Are you here yet? Where are you? Did you get lost?” Michelle was always the “motherly” one out of my crew of friends in high school. I hadn’t seen her since our high school graduation in 2010, and evidently, she hasn’t changed a bit. Running towards me with a big “Kool-Aid kid” smile on her face, and curly jet-black hair, we hugged each other and at the same time said, “Long time no see,” as we proceeded to walk around the maze-like campus.
Walking through the Maryland campus on an ordinary Saturday, it seemed kind of peaceful compared to its regular overwhelming, busy day. Michelle, who is a senior at UMD states, “This is nothing compared to a regular school week; people are usually running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They’re either rushing to the shuttle trying to make it to class on time, or on their way to work.” Shockingly enough, a guy wearing casual black slacks and a button up dress shirt rushes past me going full speed on a bike as if I were transparent.
He waves his hand and says, “Sorry, in a rush,” as he continues on speeding through the fresh cut grass. Michelle and I laughed together recognizing that everything she had just expressed was true. The fresh air was brisk and cool on that sunny yet chilly day. The warm sun was beaming down on my face with a smell of fresh cut grass in the air. In the midst of the sound of the lawn mowers in the field, I could make out a bubble lettered, highlighter yellow colored “M” that sits on a hill. I heard the trees blowing in the wind and birds chirping to the beat of their own drum. The grass was especially green like it would be on a hot summer’s day.
This commercial university which portrays a perfect town with bright vibrant colors had such a peaceful atmosphere. As we continued to walk the campus we stumbled into an old colonial looking building called the Rossborough Inn that Michelle doesn’t visit often. The faded red and orange brick is embedded all around the building that used to serve as an “inn” during colonial times. The Rossborough Inn sits about 20 ft. tall with an American flag hanging that was flying around in the wind. This building is in fact the oldest building on the campus according to the gold and black plated plaque located on the front of the building. As I continued to read the history behind the Rossbourough Inn, a small older woman came out of the black entrance door. She looked happy to see us; I assumed it was because the rest of the campus seemed to be slightly desiccated. She introduced herself as Gloria Hartman, the hostess of the building.
She was about 5 ft. tall, the same height as me actually, with shimmery white hair that was curled. I commented that her hair “looked nice.” She blushed a bit, with red rose cheeks and chuckled, “thank you hun.” With red lipstick smudged on her teeth she asked, “Are you ladies coming in? It’s a little windy out there.” We take her offer and walk inside. Ms. Hartman went on to tell us that the Rossbourough Inn is also used and houses the alumni association that she is a part of. Hartman graduated from UMD in 1965 when the campus wasn’t as advanced.
She expressed her love for UMD, “The school is continually expanding, I meet different students of different cultures everyday and it’s so uplifting that they choose to come to our school out of all the schools throughout Maryland.”
The floors were creaking as any old-age building would, as we viewed the many pictures on the wall of the original building.
We ended up a few steps away from the Maryland campus, when our stomachs began to grumble like the sounds of a thunderstorm. Terrapin’s Turf was a newly opened restaurant and bar that was innovatively designed. The large rectangular frames posted on the walls were filled with green and blue glowing backgrounds. Lights dangled from the ceiling and a green turtle shell was hung on a nearby wall. Clearly Terp pride was executed everywhere. Our waitress came over and introduced herself. Jalisa Ross was a full time student, her hair pulled back neatly in a bun, wearing black slacks and a white collared shirt.
“Are you ladies ready to order?” Ross asks.
“Sure, how’s your Blackened Chicken fettuccini? “ I curiously wondered.
With bright eyes and raised eyebrows she responded, “That’s actually my favorite thing we have, it’s not too too spicy, you’ll love it!”
Michelle and I both ordered the same dish and it was delectable. I was in taste bud heaven. The spice enriched tender chicken strips were cooked to perfection. The chicken was topped with a tang of creamy Cajun sauce while the steam rose to the top of ceiling. I needed a drink of water here and there to overcome the blend of spices. I’ll definitely be visiting again.
As we began walking off the fulfilling meal we had demolished, Michelle excitingly said, “You will never guess who went to school here.”
“No, I probably won’t guess, but I’m sure you’ll tell me,” I cynically responded.
“Jim Henson, the guy who made the Muppets actually went here, great people are known to come from my school,” says Michelle in a sarcastic manner.
There was a black-metal statue of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog located outside the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. The statue illustrated Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog as they faced each other as if they were talking about something amusing. Kermit the Frog’s hand was lying on Henson’s arm like they were long time buddies. While we viewed the statue, a group of people receiving a tour of the campus loudly invaded our space.
“That looks like Donald from high school,” I said.
Donald was giving a tour so we hopped in and listened to his history lesson. He expressed that Jim Henson started his TV career shortly before entering his freshman year in 1954; in that same year he met his wife, Jane Henson. Michelle went on to say, “They did the screening of the new Muppets movie at our school before airing it anywhere else. A lot of families came on campus that day to watch the movie.”
I liked that about College Park. I liked that the campus involved the community and residents in such a rewarding event, something that children would remember when they grow up. College Park is full of events that families can attend. One of the biggest events is Maryland Day, which involves students on the campus, young and old residents, and alumni as they gather together to celebrate the life of their town.
“Maryland Day is huge here in College Park, on and off campus. People come from all over to come out and enjoy festivities and different activities. Over 58,000 people attended last April, alumni from all over the world came out to support their school; it brings out the entire community. We also have a blues festival that is hosted by the City of College Park. They have raffles, activities, food and good music,” stated Donald as he fixed the collar of his red, gold, and black tour guide shirt. I felt the pride that Michelle exerted when she spoke about her school and the admiration Donald exerted when he spilled information during his tours.
College Park was full of older colonial styled houses, especially in the Berwyn neighborhood. Mrs. Anna Fischer was checking her mail when I met her. Her house looked to be regal as the others with dark blue shutters, a long extended white porch, and a classic black door. I asked her how long she had been living in this neighborhood because she looked fairly young.
She stated, “I lived here for about 18 years, but I’m originally from D.C.”
This community in particular had a lot of history within it dating back to the late 1940s when people used streetcar lines to travel.
“They even made some of the older and bigger houses rental spaces for students since we’re pretty close to the campus. They have parties from time to time, but it’s never nothing to complain about; I understand the college life,” Fischer said sympathetically.
It was around 5:45 as I made my way to the Blues Festival. The 6th Annual College Park Blues Festival was a free event and definitely one of the most intrinsic and inspiring experiences that I had on my journey. As I walked in the Ritchie Coliseum, located on the Maryland campus, there were a few students, but mostly adults. Smooth sounds of the deep and rich base guitar filled the room. Different bands performed on the stage, and each band had their own style. They were having a fundraiser to help raise money for The Stacey Brooks Blues Band who was named the Battle of the Bands winner by the DCBS (DC blues society). They were raising money during the festival to send the band to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, which is sort of like the American Idol of blues. I heard a song that sounded familiar to my old-soul ears; the Daddy Mack Blues Band began playing “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. Everyone contributed to singing this all time blues favorite, including Ms. Tammy Stern who eagerly grabbed my hand and spun me around.
“Each year I come to the festival I’m never disappointed, it’s a great cause to help out the community and keep residents involved. This is a huge deal for fans of Blues Music,” said Stern.
She mentioned that she traveled from D.C. just to enjoy a free community event and have an all around great time. I could sense a reaction of love from Ms. Stern and how dedicated she was to the College Park community even though she was not a resident. People come from all over to indulge in events that are held in this melting pot of a community.
After analyzing the lifestyle of students in a larger school setting, I grew to actually appreciate Stevenson’s intimate university more than ever. I admire the UMD student’s sense of pride and devotedness but nothing compares to building long lasting connections. At Stevenson I value being able to build relationships with my professors and classmates. My teachers actually know my name and always have time to support my needs. UMDs school population is too large to interact with faculty at a familiarized level, students are often characterized as numbers rather than actual students. Regardless of my opposition to the vast college atmosphere, I formed a sense of gratitude towards the townspeople and their loyalty to the Terrapin zone. Each person that I met or talked to on my adventure of College Park demonstrated emotions of love, pride, and dedication to their community. College Park is more than a town filled with college students who are hustling and bustling to class every day. College Park is full of people of all ages, occupations, nationalities, races and lifestyles. The town has rich history that many take great pleasure in sharing with others and that many also take for granted. I discovered that the dichotomy of the University does not decrease or overshadow the tight knit feel that the College Park community has to offer; and that is something that every community should stand for and rejoice.