While the Severn River Association objects to a plan to sell advertising along the B & A Trail, the Greater Severna Park Council voted Tuesday to let the parks department and Neall administration settle thematter.
Late last month, B & A Trail Park Superintendent David Dionne began distributing handbills offering merchants the opportunity to post 36-by-10-inch signs along the trail for a $250 annual fee.
In response to the plan, the SRA's executive committee drafted a letter to County Executive Robert R. Neall opposing commercializationof any kind along the 66-foot-wide right of way.
"The county Department of Recreation and Parks has no business getting into the commercial field," SRA President Stuart
Morris said. "The county Department of Recreation and Parks should stick with what it does best: cutting down forests and making them into ball fields."
GSPC President Patricia Troy said, "This is the one issue that has had my phone ringing the most" since she became president in February.
Troy invited Dionne and Thomas Donlin, specialized facilities chief for recreation and parks, to explain the policy to the council Tuesday evening.
Donlin and Dionne's presentation downplayed the impact of the signs, portraying them as "useful" and "tasteful" directional indicators modeled after highway signs found along Vermont highways.
Nobody from the council raised any objections to the plan, though some suggested that symbolic indicators might be better than commercial signs. Dionne even received an enthusiastic round of applause for his "good work with the trail."
The council then unanimously endorsed a motion by legislative chairman Albert Johnston calling for the department to "continue with their obviously vigorous review of this (sign) policy to its conclusion and leave the details to the (Neall) administration."
The GSPC is an umbrella organization serving 63 community associations that represent 41,000 people in the Severna Park/Millersville and Arnold area. Delegates from approximately 30 associations were present for Tuesday's meeting.
Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said the county executive has scheduled a "private" meeting for tomorrow "to discuss his concerns" about the plan with recreation and parksDirector Joseph McCann.
Hayman said Neall has received several complaints from citizens about the sign proposal.
Dionne, who conceived the plan, said he couldn't understand why people would object to "tasteful" and "uniform" signs that generate money for the county, especially when businesses have been planting illegal signs to grab theattention of hikers and bikers for years.
"I'm surprised by the reaction. Nobody complained when the illegal signs were out there. Businesses have just been kind of slopping them up. I wanted to get the illegal signs out, but I don't see anything wrong with helping trail-side businesses get the word out about their services in a tasteful way," Dionne said.
With budgets continually tightening, Dionne said, all county park superintendents were asked for ways to increase park revenues when they came in for budget reviews with McCann last winter.
"There was no argument about it when I came in for my budget review," he said.
In late May, park rangers began hand-delivering letters explaining the sign policy to merchants along the 14-mile trail. The letters announced that "a unique business opportunity has arisen."
The letters informed merchants who want to advertise on the park that they "must" purchase the blue-and-white-lettered signs from "Designs and Signs" of Edgewater, where they would cost approximately$95. The letter also notified merchants that all unauthorized advertisements "will be removed from the park." Dionne said he told his rangers to begin removing illegal signs on June 1.
SRA President Morris said the plan opens the door to abuses of power.
"How does Recreation and Parks decide who gets to advertise along the park and who doesn't?" Morris asked. "It's not clear."
Tuesday night, Dionne suggested the offer would only be open to businesses that provide services to people on the trail.
"For instance, you wouldn't allow a liquor store to advertise along the trail, because alcoholic beverages are prohibited in the park," he said.
To date, Dionne said, he hasn't received any orders for the signs.