Rare private airstrip is up for sale Owners say their airpark requires too much work

February 18, 1996|By Lisa T. Hill | Lisa T. Hill,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Among the farms and private homes near Keymar and Taneytown -- within sight of the Catoctin Mountains -- one of Carroll's few remaining private airstrips is being sold.

Owners Robert and Winifred Miller, who built Keymar Airpark in 1970, both said they are getting too old to maintain the strip, and living on fixed incomes doesn't leave much money for extras, Mr. Miller said.

A retired school bus contractor and farmer, Mr. Miller said a friend talked him into getting his pilot's license more than a quarter-century ago. I really liked it," he said. "I figured I had the land, so I could build a private airstrip to come and go as I please."

A license from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a private airstrip is free, as long as the owner does not charge pilots for using the strip. But Mr. Miller said that once he built the airpark, friends began asking to keep their planes there. When it first opened 26 years ago, as many as 12 planes were parked there.

The friends even formed a club for pilots based at the Keymar airstrip, but Mr. Miller said he dissolved it eight to 10 years ago when it became too much work.

Now, four close friends keep their planes at the airpark. Because the Millers cannot charge a fee, the pilots make donations to help with its upkeep.

Wayne Fair, an electronics technician at Fort Detrick in Frederick, is one of the men still with the Millers, and pays a tie-down fee of $15 a month. A member of the now-defunct club, he said he helped the couple open the airpark, installing all the runway lights.

"I'm surprised [the Millers] want to sell it," said Mr. Fair, who still is an avid flier. He said it is a nice runway, and he plans to stay there if it remains an airpark.

Otherwise, he will move his plane to Westminster, the nearest airport.

The Millers farmed their land for years but eventually began renting to other farmers. In 1978, they sold 166 acres -- all but the airstrip and 4 acres surrounding their home.

The 16-acre airpark includes a level, 2,000-foot grass runway, crowned in the middle for drainage, and a 1,057-foot field that could accommodate several small hangars, said Mrs. Miller.

In addition, the couple hopes a 3 1/2 - to 4-acre lot with a view of the mountains will attract a buyer interested in building a home near the airstrip.

In the spring and summer, Mr. Miller, 73, mows the airpark once or twice a week, a seven-hour chore he says has just become too much.

"It's hard to keep it up anymore," said Mr. Miller. "It's too much for a retired couple."

Mr. Miller stopped flying about eight years ago but says he doesn't miss it. Besides, he said, his diabetes probably would prevent him from renewing his pilot's license.

Although an airstrip is an unusual piece of property, Eldersburg real estate agent Jay Hull said he does not believe it will be difficult to sell. In fact, it might be a hot commodity.

"It is nearly impossible for someone to get the approval to build an airpark now," said Mr. Hull. "This one has always had the zoning approved."

Although the area is zoned for agriculture, he said, a buyer could build a few private homes on the property. Mr. Hull said the Millers have lowered the asking price from $200,000 to $190,000 and they hope owner financing might help attract a buyer.

As much as he would like to sell, Mr. Miller said, he does not want to see the property go to a developer because so few small airports remain in the area.

"My biggest concern is that I don't want it to be built up," he said. "I like the open land."

The Millers hope to stay on their 4-acre plot, which includes their brick rancher, two storage sheds and a large garage once used for school buses.

But "if someone wants the whole thing and has the money for it," they would consider selling, Mrs. Miller said.

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