Although Morgan Run Park, a 1,336-acre natural environmental area bordering Morgan Run Stream, is one of Carroll County's unique assets, the state has closed the park for the next six months in an attempt to cut expenses.
This is bad news for the thousands of hikers and nature-lovers who enjoy the park each year.
As recently as last July, then-state Sen. Sharon Hornberger urgednewcomers to familiarize themselves with the park and its facilities. "This is what you came to Carroll County for," she said.
At thattime, it appeared the state would acquire Greenway Gardens, a 27-acre adjacent to the existing park. The park's master plan calls for expansion to more than 3,000 acres.
Now, in a budget-related reversal, the $450,000 in Project Open Spaces money authorized for the purchase is in jeopardy.
"Lots of people are adamantly opposed to the transfer of funds (from Program Open Spaces to the state's general budget)," says Hap Baker of the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association. "I feel it may be OK to do it as a loan, with tight requirements for repayment and with interest."
At a meeting Saturday with members ofthe county General Assembly, many groups and individuals were concerned about the transfer of Open Spaces money to the general budget andthe loss of services to the park.
Morgan Run and 12 other designated areas will be closed for the next six months. Park Ranger Frank Ryan will be transferred to Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area in Baltimore County. One of the others slated to close until the state's fiscal year ends July 1 is the McKeldin Area at Patapsco State Park east of Sykesville.
To the public, the results of Morgan Run's closing will not be immediately evident. Over the long run, they may be devastating.
Although Morgan Run is not developed, it drew morethan 6,500 visitors last year, based on Ryan's estimate. This figuredoes not include casual hikers, bird-watchers and others who may usethe park.
Morgan Run's viability depends on close supervision of its natural resources. The stream itself, through careful stocking and rigid enforcement of catch-and-return regulations, has become one of the Baltimore area's premier trout fishing streams.
Groups such as Trout Unlimited and Maryland Fly Anglers cooperate with the state to keep the stream stocked.
Merlin Miller, a member of both groups, says, "Frank Ryan does a tremendous job of preventing poaching. Without him, the fish will be gone in nothing flat."
Ryan also notes that Morgan Run's large deer herd is a prime target for illegal hunters.
Poaching isn't the only hazard Morgan Run faces without adequate supervision. Fraser Bishop, who supervises both Soldiers Delight and Morgan Run, says once the area is not regularly patrolled, problems may be expected with all-terrain vehicles, illegal tree-cutting, vandalism of buildings, dumping, illegal parking and other undesirable activities.
"However," Bishop notes, "Frank Ryan will still live on the premises and he will be available to answer complaints. Also, anyone noting any suspicious activity may call either the Morgan Run number -- 795-1322 -- or the 24-hour emergency response number at Patapsco, 461-0050."
Walter Brown, park manager for Patapsco, said he hopes Morgan Run will have at least limited ranger services.
"Whentrout season opens in March, Frank Ryan may be assigned to Morgan Run," Brown says.
Brown said suspension of services to Morgan Run should only be temporary.
"The area is still available for recreational use," he notes. "However, we will not be able to pick up trash orcheck illegal parking or provide information to the public."
Brown also feels the acquisition of Greenway Gardens still is possible, though the delay may encourage current owner Dottie deWilde to put theproperty on the open market.
"Although basically all programs areon hold, planning is still going on at the state level," Brown said.
For those concerned about the immediate impact on Morgan Run, that may not be much consolation.