Balto. Co. hopes to retain Cromwell Valley's serenity

October 03, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Cromwell Valley was serene -- even majestic -- under a warm fall sun a few days ago, and Baltimore County officials say it's pretty much going to stay that way.

Except for the occasional clatter of bulldozers in a new housing development on a hill above Good Fellowship Farm, and the screeching of a red-tail hawk angry with the intrusion, the meadows and woods were quiet, and county officials think they can keep them so.

"We want to maintain the integrity of the valley and its natural beauty while still making it available to everyone who wants to use it," said Wayne Harman, director of the county Recreation and Parks Department.

The state and county completed their acquisition of the 367 acres for a park with the recent purchase of the 45-acre Good Fellowship Farm for $2.6 million.

Sweeping from the southwest to the northeast along Cromwell Bridge Road, three miles northeast of Towson, are Good Fellowship Farm, the 102-acre Sherwood Farm and the 220-acre Satyr Hill Farm, renamed Willow Oak Farm by the county.

"There are a lot of strong opinions about what should be done here," said Mr. Harman as he stood on the brow of a hill overlooking the valley. "We're going to take them all into account, but our goal is to use it without being invasive."

Greenman-Pedersen, a Laurel consulting firm, has been retained to draw up a master plan, to be ready by the middle of next year.

"A master plan will protect us from ourselves," Mr. Harman said. "It will keep us from adding bits and pieces that wouldn't actually enhance the park."

Greenman-Pedersen, with more than 300 employees, has done extensive park work along the East Coast. Included in its portfolio are such projects as the 368-acre Quiet Waters park near Annapolis and design and construction of a boardwalk promenade in Havre de Grace.

In the meantime, the county has been dressing up the park and making it available to the public and expects to allow full access in the spring.

"We have to put in restroom facilities and staff before we can open it up," Mr. Harman said. "My boss [County Executive Roger B. Hayden] wants us to push ahead."

The county gradually is putting together activities for the public, and a major fall feature will be hayrides. Inside a barn on the Sherwood farm is a gleaming new hay wagon, which will be drawn by two Percheron draft horses acquired during the summer.

"I think the hayrides alone will bring in $30,000 a year," Mr. Harman said, "even though the fees will be nominal. We have to think of ways to make the park self-sustaining through a lot of volunteer help and through fees."

The county's immediate goal is to reconfigure Minebank Run, which goes through the heart of the valley and has fallen into disrepair.

The stream, which eventually drains into Chesapeake Bay, needs to be dredged and its banks shored up to stop erosion. The builder who is constructing houses above Good Fellowship gave the county $25,000 in boulders to contain the Minebank.

"Much of the drainage from Towson blacktop is running off into the Minebank," Mr. Harman said. "We think we can draw out a lot of the pollution with proper management."

A council of citizens will be a major player in the development of the park. The council will work with the consultant to develop a plan, help raise money and provide volunteer help.

Luskin's, which has a store nearby, donated a miniature train and a mile of track, which Mr. Harman thinks can be fitted into the valley without "chasing the fox and deer away."

"We're going to have to depend on a lot of public giving, but when the public gets a good look at what's here, I think they'll come forth," he said.

He believes it will take 15 years or more to fully develop the park for the music lovers, hikers, picnickers, bicycle riders, and others he expects to come and enjoy the abundant wildlife and pastoral vistas it provides.

"We're going to build it around an agricultural theme," Mr. Harman said, "but there will be something for everyone. The park is so large and promising that you can do anything you want.

"Also, with Loch Raven High School so close, and with colleges and universities all around us, the park can become a center for the study of the environment."

The park has an abundance of trees native to the state. On Satyr Hill Farm alone, 130 of the 220 acres are woodland and include beech, black walnut, box elder, maple, oak, hickory, redbud, dogwood, willow, tulip poplar, sycamore and others.

Wildlife abounds and dozens of deer congregate in the evenings on a ridge above Sherwood Farm.

"I like the thought of a youngster coming out here and seeing a chipmunk for the first time," Mr. Harman said.

The valley's name comes from William Cromwell, noted in "A History of Baltimore County," by Neal Brooks and Eric Rockel, as captain of a company of county militia in 1775.

In 1768, he had married into the wealthy Raven family, early settlers who owned much of the valley as well as hundreds of nearby acres.

Little else is known about Cromwell, but the Raven name lingers on in subdivisions, schools, roads and the Loch Raven Reservoir.

The valley's oldest house, at the foot of Satyr Hill Road, is owned by Lillian Jenifer. Her late husband, Circuit Judge Walter M. Jenifer, was a direct descendant of Capt. John Risteau, who built the stone house, apparently in 1744. His descendants have lived in it since. The county is negotiating with Mrs. Jenifer for the house and seven acres.

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