Freedom Park to be home to youth sports leagues

October 11, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

After years of planning and building and one name change, Freedom Park opens officially at 4 p.m. today.

County and state officials, the Liberty High Marching Band and the Freedom Recreation Council players and coaches will celebrate the opening of the park, which will be home to about 6,000 children participating in several athletic programs.

The 125-acre park at Raincliffe Road near Route 32 in Sykesville is "the result of a lot of hard work by many citizens and county and state officials," said Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat who initiated the project in 1989 at the request of Thomas Lee, a volunteer coach in the Sykesville Youth League.

"It is a joint effort, which benefits all our citizens," said Mr. Dixon.

Five years ago, volunteers asked Mr. Dixon for help in finding more fields for the Freedom program, which was doubling in size every few years and rapidly outgrowing the fields at Obrecht Road.

"They have not had to turn kids away yet, but if this park were not finished, they would have had to," said Jeff R. Degitz, chief of the county Bureau of Recreation.

"The Freedom program has been filled literally from day one and is still squeezing. When sports programs become overcrowded, there is no temporary solution. You have to wait for the next construction."

The county signed a 50-year lease -- at $1 a year -- for the land in Patapsco State Park and set to work building the new park.

"This is one of the first such partnerships between the county and state," said Mr. Degitz.

No young baseball players will be turned away next spring, when an expected 1,000 take to Freedom's six new baseball fields.

"The state gave us the land at a tremendous bargain," said Mr. Degitz. "We had a beautiful facility without land acquisition costs and were able to invest the money to develop it. The park is consistent with the state's master plan for Patapsco."

The $1.45 million project, nearly $500,000 of which came from a state Program Open Space grant, includes six baseball fields; two multipurpose fields for soccer, football and lacrosse; and picnic areas.

A few months ago, the site originally called Sykesville Park was renamed Freedom Park.

"We wanted the park to be more of a regional area," said Richard Soisson, director of Carroll County Recreation and Parks.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the needs for the entire South Carroll area, which is growing rapidly."

The area is growing so rapidly that the park will be filled on opening day next spring, said Mr. Degitz.

In addition to baseball and girls' softball, the Freedom recreation program sponsors soccer, football and lacrosse leagues.

"This park is an attempt to deal with the tremendous growth of the program," said Mr. Degitz.

The fields are graded and seeded. The parking lot and players' benches are ready.

Although the games won't begin until spring, Elrod Hendricks, pitching coach for the Orioles, will toss out the first pitch today. Mr. Dixon said he would like to claim that honor in April.

"I used to coach," said Mr. Dixon. "I know how much time and effort these volunteers put into these programs."

During the ceremony today, Field One will be dedicated to the memory of a coach, James M. Rickels, who was killed in June by lightning shortly after a game was called off at the Obrecht Road fields.

The Freedom Area Recreation Council has more plans for the park. The next project will be a tot lot and bleachers.

Fencing and paving are to be completed before spring practice. Mr. Degitz said he knows people will be "clamoring for lights" but that "no money is in the capital plans" for them.

Obrecht Road is scheduled for realignment in about a year, but Mr. Degitz said the council should be able to continue playing on most of the fields there.

"I really don't see them losing more than one field there," he said. "They may redesign those fields, which are not as big. They are better suited to the younger players. The older kids can use Freedom Park."

With no more room to expand at either site, Mr. Degitz said, he knows volunteers will soon be requesting more land.

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