U.S. rejects Fort Meade park plan Nature studies more important

September 23, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The county's plan to build a 400-acre park and athletic complex on surplus land at Fort Meade has been rejected by the federal government.

The West County park proposed by County Executive Robert R. Neall would be incompatible with nature studies already planned for the site, transferred last year to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, refuge manager John Stasko said yesterday.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who operate the Laurel facility, particularly objected to construction of picnic pavilions, baseball diamonds and concession stands that would destroy the site's natural habitats, Mr. Stasko said.

Congress transferred 8,100 "surplus" acres from the Army base to the research center last year on the recommendation of a citizens' advisory panel and the Maryland delegation.

The land, once used for Army tank maneuvers, machine gun practice and parachute training, ranges from dense forest to grassy meadow. The site is home to bald eagles, deer and several endangered plant species.

Louise Hayman, Mr. Neall's spokeswoman, said the county executive was disappointed by the federal ruling. The county has no plans to appeal the decision or submit any additional requests, she said.

"It was certainly something that needed to be explored," Ms. Hayman said. "It would have given the county much-needed park land at a reasonable price, but that is the end of it."

The outright denial of a county park surprised county officials.

Jay Cuccia, assistant to county parks director William Rinehart, said county officials presented a "concept plan," including trails, athletic fields, offices and bathrooms, to the research center's managers on July 10. County officials intended to tailor that plan to whatever federal officials would allow, he said.

"Our idea was we would work jointly on the proposal, but apparently that was not the case," Mr. Cuccia said.

The county proposed constructing a single building for park offices and bathrooms, several pavilions and unspecified ball fields in a clearing previously used as a parachute drop zone, Mr. Cuccia said. "We presented that as a working document. We didn't cast anything in concrete," he said.

The concept plan was reviewed by a panel of Patuxent's research scientists, who decided it would interfere with nature studies planned for the site, Mr. Stasko said. The Patuxent center is widely known for its studies on endangered species; its research solved the mystery of DDT, a pesticide that decimated bald eagle populations two decades ago, and has led to that species' resurgence.

That the Fort Meade Coordinating Council, a county-appointed citizens advisory panel, also recommended against developing the site as a county park, and the existence of alternative park sites also influenced the decision, Mr. Stasko said. A county-appointed West County Park Committee has identified several county-owned parcels where smaller parks could be built.

"There are no alternatives for a refuge in this area," Mr. Stasko said.

Patuxent officials have promised to open the facility to nature-oriented recreation such as hunting, fishing and Boy and Girl Scouting activities.

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