Careful management protects Morgan Run Natural Environment Area Carroll park remains a wonder

June 08, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

A fox races swiftly across the fields. Bluebirds flit in and out of rows of nest boxes. Deer peek out from new greenery blooming everywhere.

"This is just a taste of what you can see here," said Carolyn A. Garber, vice president of the county Equestrian Council and a volunteer at Morgan Run Natural Environment Area for four years.

She visits the 1,300-acre park along Route 97 in South Carroll several times a week from her home in Winfield and calls those visits an escape into a quieter world.

"I come to get away and spend a few minutes or most of the day," she said. "It's my back yard full of wildlife, birds and butterflies -- the things people don't always take time to look at."

With more planning and continued careful management, Frank Ryan, Morgan Run's sole park ranger, hopes visitors will soon catch glimpses of bobwhite quail and Szechuan pheasants.

With any luck and perseverance, he promises they will see wild turkeys -- once gone from Carroll County for nearly a century. Since nine birds were released at Morgan Run a few years ago, the flock has grown to 18.

"We are planting food and cover and improving the wildlife habitat to show good farming practices," said Mr. Ryan, the ranger since the park opened to the public in 1989.

The park meets the habitat needs of many species, from those that prefer woody areas to those that seek open fields, he said. The intent of attracting wildlife is "for aesthetics, not to produce a surplus for hunters."

Mr. Ryan, 43, said he has loved the outdoors since he was a child helping his grandfather, a state forester and game warden. His father worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps and fired his son's interest with a "love and respect" for the outdoors.

"My dad always encouraged me to work at something I would enjoy," he said.

For a man who calls himself a "natural resources groupie," working in the state park system for 24 years is "a way of life, not just a job.

"I would like to go on for 50 years," he said with a smile.

A state employee, he works closely with the county Department of Recreation and Parks to "provide recreational opportunities and protect the environment." Mr. Ryan said he also has relied heavily on volunteers.

"If you give people an opportunity to participate, they will get started," he said. "We have to make it easy for them to plant trees or clean up a park."

Volunteers have found many recreational outlets, too. Ms. Garber often rides her horse in the park, following an interim riding plan she helped developed. Or, she walks with the Piedmont Pacers, a hiking club that often meets for hikes through the park.

"We have designed opportunities for all the traditional user groups," Mr. Ryan said. "Hikers, bird watchers, equestrians and sportsmen, they have all found many common interests. They understand each other and cooperate."

Last week, as the two prepared for National Trail Days, Ms. Garber had a few last-minute requests.

"See that stand over there," she said. "We need to trim that back."

With a dead battery in his tractor and 120 acres of thistle left to mow before it went to seed, Mr. Ryan took note of her requests and put them on a lengthy to-do list.

"I wish a tooth fairy would drop a new tractor out of the sky, but I know that's not going to happen," he said.

This is the fourth year -- and he hopes the last -- he has opted to mow the "noxious weed." Grass and clover are finally overtaking the thistle, which is often destroyed through spraying -- an easier option but not in keeping with the natural environment, he said.

Mowing also gives hikers and riders minimal access with little impact on wildlife, he said. Eventually, he would like to recycle long-unused road trails in what was originally farmland.

The state has owned Morgan Run since 1973 and oversees the park through its Department of Natural Resources.

"Our purpose is to protect this valuable resource from the people and people from the resource," he said with a laugh.

Two months ago, the state gave final approval to a master plan, "a general outline of what activities are compatible" for developing the park further, he said.

"The intent is to protect Morgan Run stream, a primary tributary of the Liberty Reservoir, which provides drinking water to about a million people," said Mr. Ryan. "We would like to increase the acreage and extend the area of protection, and that includes buying as much land as possible along the stream valley."

The water quality of the stream makes it an ideal year-round habitat for trout and one of eight trout-management areas in the state.

"You can catch them, but you can't keep them," he said.

Activities that require intense maintenance and care are restricted because Morgan Run is classified as an environmental area, he said. Instead of picnicking and camping, development now is limited to hiking and equestrian trails, he said.

"We are protecting a park in its natural state," said Mr. Ryan, who lives in a state residence near the park grounds and serves as "an immediate contact person."

"We have accomplished much but there are miles more to go."

Information: 795-1322.

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