A proposed regional park on surplus land at Fort Meade is pitting hunters, conservationists and other outdoorsmen against Little League parents and weekend athletes.
Both sides packed the O'Malley SeniorCenter in Odenton on Tuesday night as Joe McCann, the county recreation and parks director, pitched his proposal to the Fort Meade Coordinating Council, a citizens advisory group, and Hal O'Connor, directorof the federal Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which controls thesurplus land.
McCann said the county needs a new West County park to meet the growing demand for picnic areas, trails and playing fields created by three large-scale planned communities under construction. He projected the population within eight miles of Fort Meade will grow 46 percent in 10 years.
Five years ago, the county planned to convert the Millersville Landfill into a park after the dump closed. But, McCann said, an environmental redesign of the landfill eliminated the flat surfaces that might have been used for ball fields and picnic areas.
And without Program Open Space money, which the General Assembly cutthis year to balance the state budget, the county cannot afford to purchase a park site in West County.
"I'm here asking as a beggar, with my hand out for this land," McCann said. "I don't expect Hal O'Connor to meet all of our needs, but our park system in West County isalmost non-existent."
McCann offered no other specifics about howlarge a park he hopes to build. But earlier Tuesday, he told reporters he would need at least 150 acres to make a dent in the projected demand.
Congress transferred 8,100 acres from the Army to the Patuxent research center this fall to preserve the wildlife habitat, conduct research and other "compatible" public uses, O'Connor said.
O'Connor said he will consider a park proposal when he receives one fromthe county "if it falls within our mission. If not, we'll deny it."
Other wildlife research centers do allow a variety of public uses ranging from camping to jogging to flying radio-controlled airplanes,O'Connor said. Ball fields and picnicking are allowed at some refuges but frowned on by others, he said.
O'Connor said he definitely will allow horse trails on the Fort
Meade property, but he will notspend the research center's money to maintain the horse stables acquired in the transfer.
"If it's not managed by (the Army) or some other organization, then we would close the stables," he said.
Somemembers of the coordinating council, which recommended last year that the entire 8,100 acres be left undisturbed, urged O'Connor to reject a park outright.
The Potomac Chapter of the Sierra Club, Maryland Save Our Streams and the Severn River Association also opposed the park.
"I'm a little upset that we're even here tonight," said council member Cliff Andrews, who also is an environmental activist.
"I'd be just as upset if someone were proposing an office park here oran incinerator. We have given Hal O'Connor as much direction as he needs."
Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, said, "I feel this presentation would have been better made to the County Council rather than to a council dedicated to the preservation of this property."
But Ray Smallwood, a Maryland City resident, said, "It's a lot of acreagethat most of us on the west side of the county have never had any access to. We're looking forward to some form of a regional park."
Jim Lamanca of Gambrills said, "There's got to be a compromise. We need hunting, we need fishing, but we need athletics for the kids too."