No peace in this valley Greenway: A plan for a trail network in the Patapsco Valley has preservationists at war with each other.

November 29, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Cathy Hudson and Larry Meyer both love the Patapsco River.

She likes to wade in it in the summer, feeling the mud between her toes and looking for the blue crabs that can survive when there hasn't been much rain. He fly-fishes on the weekends, turning over stones to collect and observe aquatic insects.

Both want to save the river, and the valley it carved, from encroaching civilization -- but that's where the similarities end.

Hudson has helped create a proposal for a trail network -- the Patapsco Heritage Greenway -- that would showcase historical, cultural and natural sites along the river in Baltimore and Howard counties. Meyer opposes the plan, believing it would destroy the valley's charm.

Hudson and Meyer embody the conflict that has followed the greenway proposal since it was made public at an Oct. 5 meeting in Oella. Greenway supporters are trying to placate critics upset over proposals -- including visitor centers, concession stands, parking garages and an aggressive marketing campaign -- that they believe will draw crowds of visitors to their beloved valley.

Planners are worried about delays and possible loss of funding.

Meyer, an engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory who lives in Ellicott City, is one of the most outspoken critics.

"In years to come, if we don't modify this plan now, I think it's going to destroy the river system," he said, worrying about the impact of crowds canoeing, kayaking, swimming and fishing.

'A used park'

Hudson, a stay-at-home mother who lives in Elkridge and helped plan the greenway, disagrees. She loves Patapsco Valley State Park -- grew up riding horses on its trails -- and wants others to fall in love with it, too: "A loved park is a used park, and if you don't use it, it's not going to be cared for."

Charles L. Wagandt, an Oella preservationist and developer and chairman of the greenway committee, said the dispute boils down to different philosophies.

"There are those who look on the Patapsco Valley State Park as a private preserve, and those who look on it as a public resource," he said.

While he acknowledged that the greenway would increase tourism, he thinks that would be a good thing.

"There is a fantastic, exciting story to tell about the history of the valley," he said. "The story is still waiting to be uncovered."

Originally, the greenway committee aimed to complete a proposal by April this year, in time to obtain a state grant for next year, said Marcia McLaughlin, a committee member and deputy director of planning and zoning for Howard County. She said that as a result of the dispute, the committee has pushed back its deadlines to later next year and has entertained the possibility that the greenway won't happen.

Search for support

"I think having community support is really important," McLaughlin said. "There are not enough state dollars to go around, and no one is going to spend money in an area if it's going to cause controversy."

Wagandt said he is not worried. All projects attract naysayers in the beginning, he said, and often end up succeeding. As an example, he pointed to the now-popular Northern Central trail that runs from north of Towson to the Pennsylvania border.

"That was bitterly fought," he said. "Now what would happen if we tried to take that trail away? There would be an uproar. It seems that in order to move forward, you are going to have to encounter this type of negativity. But it is also our desire to work as closely as possible with the community. And I stress that. We want to incorporate the interests and wishes of the community into the plan."

To that end, committee members met this month with residents of Relay, Oella and Elkridge and plan to meet with Ellicott City residents in January.

"We need to boil it down to a list [of proposals] that people feel good about and can get behind," McLaughlin said.

No compromise

Many residents are not sure they want to compromise.

"I'm no preservationist, but typically preservation means leave alone and keep out," said Michael Ellison, an environmental consultant who lives and works in Oella, "and figuring out where to turn buses around is not going to do that."

Ellison said he likes to be able to walk out of his house and into the park, several minutes away. Before long, he said, he is deep in the woods where he can't see a soul. He doesn't like the idea of tourists crowding the valley.

"Something may be gained for others," he said, "but something will be lost for the rest of us."

Ellison did not attend the Oct. 5 meeting, but he didn't like what he heard about it. Deana D. Rhode-side, a Virginia urban planner hired by the committee for $135,000 -- $80,000 from the Maryland Heritage Areas program and the rest from Baltimore and Howard counties and private donations -- talked for hours about the directions a greenway could take.

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