Taxpayer Sees No Fun In Price Of Recreation Projects

#5 News Story

December 30, 1990|By Robert Lee

In the heat of a fiery election campaign that centered on the issue of whether the county should place a cap on spending, the Recreation and Parks Department celebrated the grand opening of three of the most expensive projects in its history.

Completion of the $18 million, 336-acre Quiet Waters Park; the $10.8 million, 14-mile long B & A Trail park and the $3.9 million, 1,500-seat Joe Cannon Stadium (see story, page 27), all in the two months before the election, placed them at the center of the debate over whether county residents were willing to continue footing the bill for services received.

Only the $4.1 million Riva Road swimming pool, opened in 1988, even approached the scale of the projects completed this year.

Tax-revolt leader Robert Schaeffer portrayed the projects, especially Quiet Waters, as gross extravagances. Schaeffer scornfully asked why taxpayers should shell out tens of millions of dollars for what he called "Lighthizer's legacy."

But rather than downplay the projects, Rec and Parks came out with two high-profile opening-day ceremonies last fall that drew extra attention to the parks and new services those tax dollars were providing.

Spokesman Jay Cuccia said the department was trying to reach out to "the silent majority" of county taxpayers who support public spending for a better lifestyle.

The tax revolt was defeated, but a more conservative approach to park growth is already apparent within the department. Officials say they see the immediate future as a time to consolidate the phenomenal growth of the past decade.

"To be honest," Cuccia said, "we wouldn't be adverse to a slowdown to catch our breath and make sure we can manage what we have already."

So far, the two parks' superintendents say they have been encouraged by early response from the public.

Superintendent Michael Murdoch of Quiet Waters said 3,300 people have used the park's outdoor skating rink during its three weeks of operation.

The Blue Heron reception center has already been rented out for wedding receptions every Saturday from March through October 1991.

Dave Dionne of the B & A Trail was unable to pin down figures for the use of the park, which has thousands of access points. But he said trail use has increased phenomenally since it became a park in 1987, especially with the completion this summer of the last two missing sections, in Arnold and northern Pasadena.

The two projects, with their Victorian pavilions, passive nature areas and promenade paths, were designed after the vision of 19th-century engineer Frederick L. Olmstead, who designed Baltimore's Druid Hill Park, said Capital Projects Director Jack Keene.

Keene said the parks are designed to give the public access to river-front views and quiet nature walks that were taken for granted 20 years ago, when the county was rural.

Taking his first full tour of the 14-mile B & A Trail park in October, then-County Executive O. James Lighthizer, wearing a plaid flannel outfit, chewing on the end of an unlighted stogie and telling stories of his recent moose-hunting expedition, clearly was evoking images of Theodore Roosevelt, the founder of the U.S. National Parks system.

Lighthizer ardently defended the $28 million spent on those two projects as good public policy. But he acknowledged that with a recession coming and tax-revolts brewing, his vision of green ways reaching across the county may have to be reduced during the next administration.


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