ELDERSBURG -- Sportsmen and angered homeowners brought a familiar battle to a new venue Wednesday night, arguing whether hunting and target shooting should be permitted in the Morgan Run Natural Environment Area.
Most speakers focused on gun-related issues incorporated in the draft master plan for the state-owned Morgan Run, a 1,300-acre area about eight miles south of Westminster. It is bounded by Morgan Run to the north, Klees Mill Road to the east and Route 97 to the west.
About 125 nearby residents, shooting enthusiasts, hunters, equestrians and environmentalists attended the informational meeting at Liberty High School.
The plan, prepared by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, also includes development of equestrian and hiking trails and environmental education facilities. It is intended to balance recreational benefits with preservation of open space and natural resources. The sensitive environmental area is crucial to the protection of water quality for Liberty Reservoir.
A battle has brewed for several weeks over a county proposal for an outdoor shooting range at Hoods Mill Landfill near Woodbine. The Carroll County Sportsmen's Association advocates the site, saying its members have no public place to enjoy their sport safely; nearby residents object, saying they fear a shooting range will make their neighborhoods less desirable and more dangerous.
Morgan Run has been considered as an alternative site, but the state controls its development. John Wilson, an official with DNR's Greenways/Resource Planning division, said a "limited" range, with a 15-car parking lot and use by reservation, could be dropped from the plan.
The plan divides Morgan Run into 11 areas, with different proposed land uses depending upon each area's topography and other characteristics.
Hunting is proposed for two areas, and the shooting range for another near Oak Tree Road and the Clearview Airpark. Hunting could be by permit only. The program could be run by lottery to
limit the number of hunters and discourage poaching, a system used effectively in the first year of hunting at Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard and Baltimore counties, said park director Walt Brown.
Hunting could be limited to bows for the first year. Guidelines haven't been established yet.
"If we can get hunters in legally, we can prove to the local residents that we can do it safely," said David Wagner, of Westminster, a Sportsmen's Association member.
Westminster resident Steve Weidman said the association has spent money and time to improve Morgan Run by mowing thistle and lobbying the state legislature for a park ranger. The sportsmen deserve to reap recreational benefits from Morgan Run, he said.
"We've got nothing but private property [in Carroll]," said Mr. Weidman. "We need someplace where we can go to hunt and shoot."
Some nearby residents said they might accept limited bow hunting, but nearly all opposed rifle hunting and a shooting range because they say the activities would be unacceptably dangerous and loud.
Although the Sportsmen's Association contributed to improving Morgan Run, "It only takes one bullet to kill someone," said an angry John Kazyak, an Oak Tree Road resident. "And you can't replace a life, I don't care how much money you put into it.
"There's plenty of hunting out in Western Maryland. Go out there and hunt all you want."
Several other residents urged DNR to drop plans for any type of development of the area.
"What would it take to stop the project?" asked James Boggs, a Klees Mill Road resident. "It's obvious that three or four special interest groups got it to where it is."
The project, which depends on the availability of state money, would cost about $1.9 million to construct in three phases. The plan recommends acquiring more land so Morgan Run can be connected to other parks and to preclude encroaching development.