More Places To Play

How CRYSP Is Helping to Increase Outdoor Recreation Sites in DC

photo: David Connerty-Marin

Two years ago, on June 8, 2019, the ribbon was officially cut at The Fields at RFK, ushering in a new phase in the use of the RFK Stadium campus. Wielding the ribbon-cutting scissors were Mayor Bowser, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, councilmembers, Events DC President Gregory O’Dell and Chairman Max Brown, and other dignitaries. The members of CRYSP DC were also there, celebrating our decade-long effort to bring more playing fields to Capitol Hill.

Since that day, The Fields have proven to be a critical asset serving the local community in wards 6, 7, and 8, as well as all of DC.

This anniversary is a good time to review the path we traveled to get to this point. Moreover, it is a time to envision what might be next for this location and elsewhere in DC to enhance opportunities for athletic fields, recreational facilities, and green space, all central to CRYSP’s mission.

Over 10 years ago, a group of parents from neighborhood and youth sports organizations near the RFK Campus got together—our first meeting was in an office above Frager’s Hardware Store, the original, before it burned down—to look at possible locations for sports fields and other outdoor amenities to serve a growing demand for such facilities in DC. One parcel of land stood out – the parking lots at RFK Stadium.

This group formed a nonprofit, which became CRYSP DC, to address the lack of sufficient athletic fields and recreational space in DC, the negative issues associated with that, and to explore ways to fix it.

We met with Mayor Bowser as Events DC was beginning its process of reimagining the RFK campus. She liked our proposal and shortly thereafter, we had our first meeting with Events DC. In April 2016, they unveiled a comprehensive plan for the RFK Stadium site which incorporated many aspects of our vision for the fields. Events DC welcomed CRYSP’s input throughout the planning process and broke ground in August 2018. The next spring, Events DC selected CRYSP to help manage the complex and this tremendous community asset was unveiled at the grand opening.

But CRYSP is more than just the daily operator of The Fields. We continue to explore opportunities within and beyond the RFK Campus for spaces and programs that would benefit a wide range of stakeholders. We have observed that two populations are critically underserved: seniors and kids not participating in organized activities. We initiated discussions with Events DC to explore how we can serve these two groups. Already, we are working to launch a pop-up disc golf course in early July and to promote more, and more varied, use of the Celebration Pavilion.

Beyond RFK, we continue to serve as an advocate for, and a future provider of, additional play spaces and program activities of all kinds, anywhere in DC. This spring we helped nine young girls and one boy participate in sports programs which would not have otherwise been accessible to them, and we provided them the gear they needed to be successful.

We continue to advocate for specific open spaces, such as at Kenilworth Park and Hill East II. CRYSP’s mission is “making space to play.” Unfortunately, DC is still confronted with a lack of sufficient, safe, accessible, high-quality outdoor recreation facilities, especially in the eastern and southern portions of our city. Addressing this issue is more important than ever, given the pandemic. Outdoor sports and recreation can play a key role in healing our country socially, physically, and mentally.

Our collective capacity to develop and operate sustainable facilities that are geographically and financially accessible to youth of all socio-economic backgrounds is critical to CRYSP’s mission of public service. We intend to continue to aggressively pursue this mission and welcome the opportunity to collaborate with anyone and any organization who would join us in this pursuit.

Learn more about CRYSP DC by visiting cryspdc.org, and about The Fields at RFK at rfkfields.com

Michael Godec is board president of CRYSP DC; a longtime volunteer, board member and current president with Sports on the Hill; and a resident of Capitol Hill.