At Home In Quiet Waters Park

Quiet Waters Park ---the name itself is inviting. "It's a wonderful place to come," says Michael Murdoch, superintendent of the park since its creation 12 years ago. "This is a place where you can take a deep breath and get away from what's going on. You can feel a temperature change---in the summer, the temperatures in the park are a couple of degrees cooler than the paved areas of the buildings and parking lots downtown." And in the winter? Murdoch says, "I think it's a little bit warmer because of the trees."

As though to enhance the invitation, Murdoch adds, "I also love the idea that we're not sports-oriented. This is not a competitive place. What I like about the park is that people come with the intent of having a good time---their demeanor changes---they know they need to slow down." The 15 mph speed limit suggests to the many visitors that "slow and relaxed" is exactly what's expected of them.

Murdoch speaks fondly of those visiting the park, especially the repeat visitors. "We have two or three groups of people that come almost every day with their families and friends, both human and animal. I've seen their children grow up---it's a wonderful feeling and a nice way to come to work."

Murdoch admits, however, that he never imagined being here all these years. "Not that I expected to come and go," he says "but [these days] you don't expect to have the same job for so long." Murdoch has had other opportunities and promotion offers come his way. "But," he says, "I love the people who work here." To assist Murdoch in his responsibilities, there is a staff of five park rangers, two full-time and five part-time maintenance people, an office manager and assistant, and the gate attendants---"a rather small staff to accommodate over 500,000 visits a year," says Murdoch. "I like to think that the staff and the programs here help to make [the park] a wonderful place."

This summer, in fact, is the first full season using the new concert pavilion, where a series of 12 very diverse performances will be presented. Says Murdoch, "Our concert series music is eclectic and a little different from what everyone else has. We have some regional artists who play here and come back every year just because they love [the venue.]" Those who have attended summer evenings of music picnicking on the broad expanse of lawn would agree that the setting is a special one.

Despite the notion many of us have about the life of a park superintendent, Murdoch says, "Most people may think my job takes place outside. Unfortunately, I'm in the office most of the time. I have to make a point to try to get out and walk around the park." You may see Murdoch walking the grounds with his dog, "not as a watchman," he says "but to get exercise and gain a wider perspective."

The "wider perspective" Murdoch is seeking can trace its early beginnings to his childhood in rural North Carolina. Son of a farmer/ longshoreman, Murdoch worked summers on a tobacco farm. He recalls his college days studying parks and recreation at East Carolina University when he attended the very first Earth Day festival. "That kind of turned me around to the environment," he says. "I had always been very sympathetic to nature and [was moved by] Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring and all the things that were happening during the '60s and '70s."

Later, Murdoch returned to graduate school for a master's degree in parks and recreation administration. "It was there that I committed myself to the environment and became actively involved in the Sierra Club." Later, in South Carolina, Murdoch formed a new group to address coastal environmental issues dealing with the protection of wetlands and marshes. In his present position as resource manager, Murdoch says, "I'm very concerned about the overconsumption of resources---overuse and misuse of what we have. There are some places in the world we should not mark. We have to protect our open spaces."

Quiet Waters Park is composed of 336 acres of woodlands and open space. Says Murdoch, "It is not a wilderness, not a virgin forest. There have been farms and homes here. People have lived on this property for 200 years or more. We actually have more woods now that in the recent past. If you look at our maps, you'll see that we've reforested more than there was 100 years ago."

But there's more to Murdoch than his deep concern for the environment. "I'm an art lover and a nature lover, too," says Murdoch. Perhaps in an attempt to be even closer to the things he values, he has filled his office with both nature and art. A giant turtle carved in African stone sits at his feet. More sculptures of animals are placed thoughtfully on the window sill, perhaps to gain a view to the park grounds.

Sharing Murdoch's interests is his wife, Deede Miller. "She's from North Carolina, too. We re-met at our 20th high school reunion. We had both been married before, loved art and nature, and were concerned about the earth and the environment." And, when the chance came their way, they both loved the idea of living and working in the new Quiet Waters Park. Murdoch saw the opportunity as an "open palette" for his talents and interests. They live in a home designed in the original park plan to house the superintendent so that he or she would have a greater interest in and proximity to the management of the complex park systems.

There were some disadvantages, though. Murdoch recalls a childhood stage, when his two young sons felt awfully isolated. "It was like having a front door a mile and a quarter away. Going next door to their friends' house wasn't so easy. I'm not sure my kids appreciated [the park] until a little bit later." These days, Murdoch is busy teaching his new granddaughter Maggie about the park. He has even planted a native southern magnolia in her name.

When asked about the problems that come along with residing on the grounds, Murdoch replies, "Occasionally there is someone who shouldn't be in here overnight, but we have very little vandalism."

But the legitimate visitors to the park are important to Murdoch---even today's unexpected arrival at the Visitor's Center, a woman upset at having lost her dog during a walk by the water. "I'm on duty all the time," says Murdoch. "Anything can happen here and, if anything happens in the park, I feel like it's my responsibility-the people and the animals." Murdoch admits to some criticism accompanying the applause for his efforts. But, he says, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't love it---I love the park and the people who come to it."

Quiet Waters Park was recently acknowledged and awarded by landscape architects to be one of the 200 most unique places in the United States. But Murdoch replies more modestly when he says, "I work in the best place in Anne Arundel County."


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