In this day and age, when anyone who refrains from leaving his empties all over the landscape qualifies as a nature lover, Frank Bliss Jr. of Silver Spring, Md. is a rare man indeed. Mr. Bliss is responsible for what must be described, paradoxically, as a public private park—a park open to the public but privately financed, a phenomenon so unusual that the U.S. Government has been baffled as to how to categorize the two permanent employees who live there.
Banner Park, Mr. Bliss's offering to the public, is now two years old. In 1964, disturbed at the encroachment of city and suburb upon the marvelous spring which gives Silver Spring its name, Bliss arranged through his small automotive firm, Banner Glass, Inc., to purchase 50 acres outside of Dickerson, Md. The park he made of them has rather more than the usual facilities: in addition to a large picnic area there are swings, horseshoe pits, badminton and volleyball courts and a nature library. A flat, grassy space serves as a Softball diamond, and in time archery and pistol ranges will be provided. But even more pleasant than what Mr. Bliss has added to his park is what he has preserved there. The terrain ranges from high and dry to dark and swampy, encompassing several streams and a large pond, and within this variegated territory may be found almost every animal, bird and plant native to Maryland.
"Why I wanted the park is really pretty simple," says Bliss. "I like nature—it clears the head, expands the lungs and gives a sense of well-being. I don't want any monument, but if I could choose one, it would be this. Something green, beautiful and useful."
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
It may have escaped your notice, but the Boy Scouts have gotten with it. Merit badges for Blacksmithing and Path-finding are out and badges for Communications (you get points for writing and narrating a one-minute radio or TV commercial), Space Exploration and American Business are in, and a Data Processing badge is in the works.
Yearning for The Good Old Days, we leafed through the Boy Scout Handbook for 1910, which was written by none other than Ernest Thompson Seton. Only 14 merit badges were awarded back then; the big deal was honors and high honors, which were given in such categories as these:
"Bathing: An honor for having bathed out of doors in water of natural temperature anywhere north of N. Lat. 30, or south of S. Lat. 30 for 300 days in the year; a high honor for 365 days.
"Sailing: To have sailed any two-man craft for 30 successive days, 12 hours a day at the wheel—the other man not a professional sailor—honor. Sixty days of the same in salt water, high honor.
"Trailing: Know and clearly discriminate the tracks of 25 of our common wild quadrupeds, also trail one for a mile and secure it, without aid of snow, honor. Similarly discriminate 50 tracks, and follow 3 tracks a mile as before, but for 3 different animals, high honor."
Ah, but it turns out that in The Good Old Days what were they yearning for but The Good Old Old Days. As Seton wrote, "We have lived to see an unfortunate change.... It is the rare exception, now, when we see a boy that is handy with tools and capable of taking care of himself.... The personal interest in athletics has been largely superseded by an interest in spectacular games, which, unfortunately, tend to divide the nation into two groups—the few overworked champions in the arena, and the great crowd, content to do nothing but sit on benches and look on, while indulging their tastes for tobacco and alcohol.... Degeneracy is the word. To combat the system that has turned such a large proportion of our robust, manly, self-reliant boyhood into a lot of flat-chested cigarette-smokers, with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality, I began the Woodcraft movement.... It aimed to counteract the evils attendant on arena baseball, football, and racing...."