A Glen Burnie father has asked the Army to surrender the ground where it once trained for war to a nobler cause.
Ralph Crawson, whose son was born brain-damaged and club-footed, wants to use a portion ofthe surplus land at Fort George G. Meade as a recreation and rehabilitation center for the physically and mentally handicapped and disabled veterans.
"What better use of land once used to train for war," Crawson told Army engineers Monday night. "If there is land there, why not use it to help people?"
The Army Corps of Engineers outlined its alternative uses for the Odenton base to about 50 neighbors, outdoorsmen, pilots and others, including Crawson, at Fort Meade High School.
Directed by Congress two years ago to consolidate its bases, the Army plans to close 9,000 acres at Fort Meade. Lawmakers approved the transfer last year of 7,600 acres to the federal Department of the Interior, which operates the adjacent Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Army officials presented a draft Environmental Impact Statement on Monday on plans to close the remaining 1,400 acres. Among the options: the Army could transfer the property to the Patuxent center or sell it for mixed-residential, industrial and commercial use.
A Fort Meade advisory panel and neighboring residents urged the Army to give the remaining property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A group, which claimed to represent 1,200 outdoorsmen who use Fort Meade, asked only that they be allowed to continue hunting and fishing there.
Pilots and aircraft owners said they wanted the base's Tipton Airfield to remain open as a general aviation landing strip.
Private developers, including Wheelabrator Technologies, which has proposed building a waste-to-energy incinerator, also attended the meeting but did not speak.
Crawson, sports coordinator for 6,000 special education students in Montgomery County, said he would like the Army to consider building a training center for the handicapped.
Maryland has 20,000 handicapped residents who must fend for themselves when theyare 21 years old, Crawson said. They are no longer eligible for public school programs. The few residential group homes and job-training programs have lengthy waiting lists.
"What happens to these young people when you send them home?" Crawson said rhetorically. "They sit, they vegetate, and they die."
Crawson's 31-year-old son, Ralphie, died three years ago from a heart attack while sitting at home.
New Horizons for the Handicapped, a Montgomery County non-profit group, would build a residential training center and athletic facility ifthe federal government provided 100 acres, said Crawson, New Horizons chairman of the board. Retired and disabled veterans could staff the facility, he said.
"He truly believes if this type of facility had been available, his son would still be alive," said Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, who met Crawson years ago through Special Olympics.
Although Monday was the first at which many heard of Crawson's proposal, he has lobbied state legislators for the past year. Sen. John Cade, R-Severna Park, visited a rehabilitation center last year inSenatobia, Miss., which would serve as the model for Crawson's camp.
"I encouraged him to attend Monday's meeting," Perry said. "Now that we've got an idea of how much the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants, he needs to get his idea out in front of people."