For town, issue of fun is serious

More recreation sites seen as No. 1 need, poll of residents finds

`A demand for activities'

Private, public plans begin to fill void

other solutions sought

May 04, 1999|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Mount Airy is working hard on places to play.

With an increasing number of new residents, many with young children, a commitment to open space in its new developments and the results of a community survey ranking recreation facilities as the No. 1 need, the town is trying to increase the number of soccer fields, swimming pools and other recreation sites.

Public and private projects are beginning to fill some of the voids in the town, which straddles two counties and serves many times more people than those who live within its boundaries. Many of them are new residents who have migrated from more populous areas and are used to having nearby pools and gyms.

Communities throughout the metropolitan area are coping with increased demand for recreation facilities. But Mount Airy's location -- split between Carroll and Frederick counties, with Howard close by -- its new residents and their lifestyles exacerbate the situation.

"People are moving into this area and are realizing that recreational opportunities are not as easily accessible as they were where they moved from," said Dan Strayton, owner and manager of Health Unlimited Family Fitness Center. With a majority of Mount Airy residents commuting to jobs elsewhere, "everybody's lives are very full, and they no longer want to take the time to drive their kids all over the state," said Strayton, who grew up in Mount Airy.

The town has one swim club -- with a waiting list -- so most Mount Airy residents must drive to Frederick, Columbia or Gaithersburg to swim. But that is about to change, for those willing to pay dues, as new recreation spots prepare to open:

* A swim club, with pools and a children's water park, is expected to open in August in the Fields of Nottingham development east of town. Though a private club designed for residents of the community, it will have as many as 300 memberships for nonresidents. The annual dues will be $450, according to a letter sent to prospective members by Catonsville Homes, which is developing the Nottingham area and the swim club. The development will include tennis courts and other facilities for residents only.

* Mount Airy is moving ahead with a 14,000-square-foot skate park for in-line skaters and skateboarders in Watkins Park. Although the town has encountered "some minor setbacks from the county [Carroll]," it expects to be seeking bids for the work soon, said David Pyatt, a town councilman and chairman of the town Board of Parks and Recreation.

* Health Unlimited will break ground this summer on an expanded center that will include an indoor pool, a small gymnasium and larger fitness facilities. The club is for members only, but others will be permitted to swim and play ball at certain times for a daily fee, said Strayton.

"My impression of the community as a whole is a demand for activities for kids," he said.

That impression was buoyed by A. J. Leahy and friends, who were looking for mulch hurdles to jump over on their bikes in the parking area of Watkins Park after school last week. "There's no place to ride a bike in Mount Airy. The police won't let you ride on the sidewalks, and riding in the street is too dangerous," said the 15-year-old.

Gary Peters, 14, said he would welcome the skate park. Other than riding bikes, "there's not much to do here," he said.

The Mount Airy Pro-active Committee, created when the Town Council barred children from playing in the streets, polled residents about community needs shortly after its inception in 1997. Year-round swimming facilities, a gymnasium and space for aerobics and crafts classes topped the list.

The need for activities for young people fueled a recent drive for a community center downtown, but the Town Council shelved that proposal several weeks ago for lack of community interest.

Town officials are investigating programs for youths, other than sports, that could be offered without the community center.

"Mayor [Gerald] Johnson asked us to look at what we can do for the youth. We're interested, but it's not something we can do overnight," said Celia Givens, executive director of the Carroll County Family Branch of the YMCA of Central Maryland.

The Carroll County YMCA and the Frederick YMCA Association have minimal offerings in Mount Airy. Givens said the town has karate, dance and fitness programs through other outlets, so it limits its involvement to child care.

As in most communities, sports teams are the main recreational outlet for children and teens in Mount Airy. And, as in most communities, space for those teams to play and practice is limited.

"A year ago, I thought we were OK on soccer fields. Now everyone is screaming for them," said Pyatt. "The growth is in soccer."

The town requires that any new development donate 10 percent of its land to the town for recreational purposes. The town has begun asking developers not just for land, but for baseball, football and soccer fields, Pyatt said. The result has been six ball fields and four soccer fields, he said.

Still, scheduling is tight and practice sites are scarce.

"If they are going to keep on building houses and bringing more people in, they have to have more recreation areas," said Pat Bostic, a coach of the Mount Airy girls' 10-and-under softball team,

"There's never enough fields. There's so many teams," she said.

Pyatt said two recreation leagues are fielding nearly 100 baseball and softball teams.

Johnson said part of the problem is that each team wants its own fields.

Despite the setback to the community center, Johnson said, the town is handling its recreation needs. "I think we're in pretty good shape," he said of the new developments. "Hopefully, they will address the needs. We'll give them time to settle in and see where we are."

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