Kites: on the wind, and with flair Park's open space welcomes high fliers

November 21, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

After 40 years of searching, Robert Price has finally found a kite-fliers heaven.

It's as big as two soccer fields. It catches winds from every direction. The grass is cut. Portable toilets and a snack shop are nearby.

And most important, the 10-acre Glenwood Park, just off Route 97 near McKendree Road in western Howard County, is largely open space -- a characteristic that's becoming very hard to find, kite-fliers say.

"It's getting nearly impossible to find a spot that's high enough to catch winds, free of trees and not being used by someone walking their dogs or playing a game," says Price, 74, of Burtonsville, a member of the Maryland Kite Society.

"As soon as you find one, some do-gooder comes in, sees an open field and puts trees in with picnic tables, slides and then there's a swimming pool and lights," he says. "A field like this is a rare thing and a prized possession."

From a kite-flying perspective, the space is so precious that it is among the sites being considered by the kiting group as its official venue. The group also is considering asking Howard County if it can use the Alpha Ridge landfill, once it is closed at the end of this year.

Ideally, the kite fliers say, they'd like to see a park set up with restrooms and snack areas, surrounded by bike paths, pavilions and open space to catch winds. The only things that would be prohibited: telephone lines, soccer fields and baseball diamonds.

At the Glenwood Park, about a dozen members of the 150-member kite society show up each weekend to test the winds -- free from the worries of telephone wires and fences. They still contend with an occasional baseball or soccer ball that bounces in from one of the surrounding fields.

With increasing development, finding space to fly kites is a nationwide problem. The East Coast has no kite-flying parks, while the West Coast has several, in California and Washington state.

In this area, such spots as Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Panther Park in Laurel and The Mall in Washington have gotten too crowded over the years, kite fliers say. Officials in various areas also have clamped down on kite flying.

The kite society members are a diverse bunch, from engineers to social worker. Their large high-tech kites of "rip-stop" nylon -- in hot pinks, vibrant reds, bright blues and lush greens -- range in price from $100 to a $1,000. They come in many shapes: cylinders, diamonds, butterflies, triangles and stars.

Adam Grow, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian and the group's executive director, found Glenwood Park during his travels from his Wheaton home to his office in Prince George's County and to Baltimore.

"It immediately caught my eye when, day after day, I noticed this wide, beautiful, green open space without much activity," he says.

Such veteran kite fliers as Price recall the good old days of kite flying when they could walk to open fields from their houses.

They say they now commonly have to trek at least 20 miles to find spots where their kite lines don't get tangled and they're not competing with sporting events or pet owners walking their animals.

"I can remember when we'd get a 10-cent high-flier and pay 15 cents for a piece of string to fly it with, and we'd head down by Baltimore's waterfront to fly those colorful little things," says Ron Young, 55, of Baltimore as he flies a hot pink stunt kite he made on his family's 1931 Singer sewing machine.

"Those days are gone. We're flying these lightweight, fancy kites made on huge, expensive machines from materials you never thought we'd use. And most of the flat fields we loved are taken up by tykes playing baseball and football, and you just try to squeeze in there with them where you can and get your kite up there," he says.

Even on a day with little wind, the Glenwood Park is a welcoming venue for kites.

Looking almost like he's dancing as he walks delicately across the field, Young pulls and dips his arms to maneuver a bow-tie shaped kite -- called a "revolution"-style kite for its unique design and four-strings for support.

A soccer ball rolls in front of him, chased by giggling teen-age girls. Without hesitation, he nimbly lifts his arms over their heads so they can run under the four-strings he's holding.

"You just learn to adjust," Young says.

Another kite flier, Martha Smith of Millersville in Baltimore County, says serious kite fliers at Glenwood sometimes cringe as children come running, but the interaction is often rewarding.

"When you can pass the strings on to a little kid and they say, 'Hey, I want to try it,' and then you see their face light up and they look back and yell to their parents, 'Look I'm flying a kite all by myself,' it melts your heart," Smith says.

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