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Pen Mark Park offers dancing, mountain views

August 02, 1999|By Greg Simmons

If you build it, they will come. Provide free music, and they will come in droves. Even to Cascade.

Every Sunday afternoon until Sept. 26 a band plays for three hours here at Pen Mar Park in a pavilion that isn't bigger than half of a high school gym. The whole park is no bigger than a football field.

Some of the regular participants said the crowd was thin, probably because of the heat. but two Sundays ago, 300 people trekked through winding Blue Ridge mountain roads to the little park nestled in the woods at Scenic View 10 on the Appalachian Trail.

The town lies on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border at the Frederick and Washington county line.

The park consists of an open-air pavilion, two covered picnic areas, a decent sized children's play area and about 20 picnic tables scattered throughout the woods surrounding the pavilion. Parking is in the grass next to the park.

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There is a concession stand, but most of the visitors opted to pack coolers. And even though there are more than 20 picnic tables near the pavilion alone, most had to bring their own lawn furniture if they wanted to sit.

On a clear day looking west, a mountain panorama sprawls from north to south beyond the valley. I looked at a map and found the next set of mountains is at Clear Spring, 20 miles away.

This scenic view is the backdrop for the Sunday afternoon swing dances.

The music is classic, and so is the crowd. Styles on the dance floor range from sneakers to wing tips; khaki shorts to dresses and pearls; and jet pony tails to silver coifs.

When I visited July 25, the Couriers took the stage for three hours. The nine-piece band played versions of "Take the A Train," "In the Mood," and even Santana's "Black Magic Woman."

The band played a couple of steps slower than what a listener would find on the soundtrack to the movie "Swingers."

That's because many of the dancers in this crowd could be grandparents, or even great grandparents of fans of that film.

Anna Prichard, 71, and Edna Kost, "older than 39," were two Cascade locals who came to hear the music. They weren't dancing, but they said the music is always good.

Prichard, who has lived in the area all her life, said the park used to get a lot of visitors through the railroad - its dormant tracks lie just behind the pavilion and the Trail.

She said people would ride the train from Baltimore just to hear the bands and ride the carousel, which has long since been removed.

Jim Powers, the secretary for the American Federation of Musicians Local 770, said the park has big bands every week just as it did in its heyday during the 1930s.

He said people still come from as far north as Harrisburg, Pa., and from as far south as Washington, D.C., just to hear the music.

By the end of the summer, the musicians union will have brought 19 bands to the park. The last date is Sept. 26 for the summer concert series.

For a quick Sunday drive, go to Pen Mar Park with a cooler full of sandwiches, some lawn furniture and a dance partner.

-- If you go to Pen Mar Park

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