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Greenbelt split over decision on Forest Preserve

GREENBELT – When the Greenbelt City Council passed a motion to hire A. Morton Thomas and Associates Inc. (AMT) on Sept. 28, it made a drastic error, according to one city council member.

“Not only do I think it was a mistake (to hire AMT), but I think it was illegal,” said City Councilmember Rodney Roberts. “I think it violates the whole Forest Preserve Act because it clearly says we should hire somebody who looks at it from a scientific point of view and not a forestry standpoint.”

At the city council meeting when the motion was passed, voting was preceded by a heated debate during which members of the community, with varying degrees of interaction with the forest, stood up and spoke to the council arguing for whichever side they supported. While the community seemed split on the decision, the city council was not. Only Roberts voted against the proposal and attacked other members of the council, arguing that they did not care about the Forest Preserve, according to minutes from the meeting.

For Roberts, who grew up in Greenbelt, the Forest Preserve, or as he put it – his “favorite place in Greenbelt” –  has played a key part in his life.

“I feel much more at ease out in the forest,” he said. “I guess that is what happens when you grow up and you spend a lot of time out there just playing.”

Roberts, who was born in 1958 and attended Parkdale High School, would go out into the forest to play and explore constantly as a child.

“I might not be around here,” Roberts said, when asked about how his childhood might have been different had he not had the forest. “I might not be alive. I might have died because of alcoholism.”

Roberts is not the only one whose experiences in life have been drastically changed by the Forest Preserve. Amethyst Dwyer, who first moved to Greenbelt with her husband 19 years ago, said the forest is one of the main reasons she chose Greenbelt.

“You feel like (the Forest Preserve is) right there, and for us in particular it’s right in our back yard,” she said. “You feel like it’s an extension of your home and when you walk through the forest you become much more connected.”

According to Dwyer, the connection she feels with nature in the forest mirrors the connection she feels with people in the Greenbelt community. This connection between residents and the feeling of community is the “Spirit of Greenbelt,” Dwyer says.

“It’s a feeling of community and of a tribe,” she continued. “It’s a feeling of belonging, of being a part of something greater than yourself or your immediate family.”

Barbara Glick, who had worked part-time in Greenbelt before moving there in January, echoed Dwyer’s sentiments, calling the “sense of community” her favorite thing about Greenbelt.

“Before I lived here, I had been volunteering for a few years, bartending at the (New Deal Café), and when I had a couple surgeries I got the nicest cards and I only worked there once a week,” Glick said. “My regular job didn’t send me a nice card. It just meant so much to me.”

Alicia Deligianis, who also only moved to Greenbelt a year ago, had a similar experience to Glick. Before moving to the city, she felt drawn to the town and has noticed a change since moving into the city.

“When I moved here, I felt myself changing, becoming more conscientious and conscious of everyone and feeling less alone and more a part of something so beautiful,” she said. “The Spirit of Greenbelt is love. It is a connectedness that balances each of us in a way that encourages collaboration and harmony with others and within ourselves.”

This sense of Greenbelt standing out from its surroundings is not unique to Deligianis and Glick.

Meg Haney, who grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, moved to Greenbelt about three years ago. Before moving to Greenbelt, Haney lived all over the country in places such as Denver, Tulsa and Montgomery County. Yet none of them compared to Greenbelt, she said. The biggest difference Haney noticed between Greenbelt and these other places is the voice the citizens have.

“The council listens to the citizens, the public works department, which takes care of all the maintenance, really cares about the city and the citizens’ care,” she said. “It’s pretty much unheard of in most situations. Most citizens don’t have so much voice into what happens. A lot of times money speaks a lot louder.”

According to Roberts, the reason Greenbelt differs from other cities is it was not made to earn profit, but rather to build a community. Greenbelt, which was built during the New Deal partially as a way to create jobs, was “built to create a better quality of life,” Roberts said.

According to Roberts, one key reason for this better quality of life is the Forest Preserve. The forest not only provides kids a safe place to play but it adds livability to the community that many places do not have, Roberts added.

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