Villages consider putting pathways up for `adoption'

Board member hopes to begin maintenance and safety program

`It just seemed logical'

August 09, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

An Owen Brown Village Board member has proposed that Columbia initiate a program in which residents, businesses and civic groups would "adopt" the community's trademark pathways to help keep them clean and safe.

Neil Dorsey, chairman of Owen Brown's Community Safety Committee, said the local effort would be modeled after the nationally recognized Adopt-A-Highway program.

The Columbia Association, the homeowners group that provides services and maintains recreational facilities in the planned community, would coordinate the program if the Columbia Council approves it.

"All of a sudden I thought, `Gee, if we have Adopt-A-Road and [the Recreation and Parks Department] has Adopt-A-Park, why don't we in Columbia do an Adopt-A-Path?' " said Dorsey. "It just seemed logical."

The association maintains the more than 80 miles of paved pathways -- enough to run three marathons without setting foot on a busy road.

The issue of pathway maintenance, which is handled by the association's open space management division, transcends village boundaries. In recent years, some paths, particularly those that are near village centers and are not well lighted, have become teen-age hangouts. The result is often an unsightly mess of beer cans, candy wrappers and glass bottles.

Dorsey said that something as simple as keeping the pathways clean could help discourage loiterers and keep nuisance crime down. It's the "broken window" theory: By addressing minor problems, more serious ones may be prevented.

An Adopt-A-Path program could fit in with a larger effort in Columbia to shift resources from the construction of facilities to the upkeep of existing ones: The community's oldest villages are more than 30 years old, and some residents complain that they have begun to show their age.

Earl Jones, the Columbia Council representative from Oakland Mills, said he would support the program if it comes before the council. He suggested expanding the effort to include public safety, because Howard County police do not regularly patrol the pathways or association open space.

"You not only pick up trash, you keep your eyes and ears open," said Jones, who sits on the council's Public Safety Committee. "That would be your area for observation."

Owen Brown officials have asked the council chairman, Joseph Merke of Town Center, to put the Adopt-A-Path issue on the council's agenda. Merke could not be reached for comment.

Chick Rhodehamel, association director of open space management, said the association donates rakes and trash bags to the village associations and civic groups when they sponsor neighborhood cleanups. But he said that instituting a communitywide program like Adopt-A-Path would mean a more coordinated -- and consistent -- effort.

More than 1,200 groups have collected more than 160,000 bags of trash in Maryland since the state began its Adopt-A-Highway program in 1990, according to the State Highway Administration. The 3,500 Adopt-A-Highway volunteers have saved the state nearly $2 million in litter cleanup costs.

Each adopting group picks up trash along a one- to three-mile stretch of highway four times a year for two years. The highway administration supplies the groups with safety vests, hats and trash bags -- and a sign on each side of the highway acknowledging the efforts of the volunteers.

Dorsey said the association might consider putting up such signs to foster civic pride and resident responsibility.

The program "appeals to me on sort of a gut level, of Columbians taking pride in our town and doing our little piece," said Erin Peacock, Oakland Mills' village manager.

Dorsey called the paths, which serve walkers, joggers and cyclists, a "trademark" of Columbia.

"I think everybody on the village board thought [Adopt-A-Path] was a good idea and one that needed to be explored," Dorsey said.

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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