Carroll ponders Gillis Falls for possible park location

Site once proposed for water reservoir

January 28, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Gillis Falls in Woodbine may never become a reservoir, as the county has long intended, but the 1,200 hilly acres could become Carroll's newest park, with hiking and equestrian trails, pavilions and a few campsites.

Carroll County acquired the land more than 20 years ago, expecting eventually to build a second reservoir there to serve its fast-growing population in the south. Crisscrossed by several potential feeder streams, including Cabbage Spring Branch, Middle Run and Gillis Falls, the site seemed ideal for a reservoir.

Gillis Falls Reservoir exists only on maps. The federal government, which has for years discouraged construction of reservoirs in areas where the existing water supply is adequate, never issued a permit for the project. The county withdrew its application several years ago.

"We purchased the land to build a reservoir and for years bought more of the surrounding area to develop recreation," said Richard Soisson, Carroll's deputy director of enterprise and recreation services. "But, eventually, it became clear that we would not be able to get the federal permits. We had to show this would be the only water source we have and, obviously, that is not the case."

South Carroll relies on the Liberty Reservoir to fulfill its water needs - as much as 3 million gallons a day. The 45 billion-gallon lake, owned by Baltimore, supplies Eldersburg, Sykesville and nearly 2 million people in the metropolitan area.

About 30 years ago, the county built Piney Run Reservoir in Sykesville as a future water source. The lake and its surrounding parkland have become a favorite recreation spot, popular with anglers, boaters and hikers.

And Piney Run could soon become the county's second water source for the 30,000 residents at its southern end.

Carroll officials have revived plans for construction of a water treatment plant at Piney Run, a facility that could process an additional 3 million gallons a day.

A second reservoir would push plans for Gillis Falls decades into the future.

"We can't build a reservoir at Gillis Falls, but we can still build a park," Soisson said.

Hoping to make another popular recreation site at Gillis Falls, county officials met with residents last week to learn their vision for the proposed park.

The county has budgeted about $60,000 for designing the project.

Much of the construction funding would come from the state's Program Open Space.

The park still needs to be designed and put out for bid, with construction proposed to begin in a few years. The project must go before the commissioners for final approval.

"Rather than our ideas, we wanted information from the local community on what they would like to see at Gillis Falls," said Soisson, who found their visions matched: a park that offers passive recreational amenities such as scattered pavilions and long trails, rather than active facilities.

"They didn't want lighted ball fields and a swimming pool," Soisson said. "Trails and pavilions were what we were looking at anyhow. People really want something similar to Piney Run Park."

Ken Stockdale, president of the Woodbine Recreation Council, said the community has definite ideas for the new park, which is surrounded by farmland and a few isolated subdivisions. The most unpopular item on the list of possibilities was a public swimming pool. "No one wants a public pool; there are enough private pools around here," Stockdale said. "Pools increase traffic; upkeep is tremendous, and they bring outsiders."

The residents want paved parking areas, permanent restrooms with running water, and trails for walkers and cyclists, but not for dirt bikes, he said.

"The county wanted to hear from us, and we gave them our ideas," Stockdale said. "We need something here, but this place is not suitable for a lot of active recreation." Stockdale promised hikers would have glimpses of deer, wild turkey and other animals in their natural habitat.

Although the area needs more soccer and football fields, the predominantly hilly terrain would make the cost of that type of construction prohibitive, he said. Most residents were amenable to creating a few campsites for area Scout groups.

"There is enough ground to set camping away from any property lines," Stockdale said. "We would not want unrestricted camping, which Piney Run finally had to curtail when use got so great that it had too much impact on the park. We would want controls, but camping would be good for organized groups."

Stockdale, a charter member of Woodbine Recreation Council, which was formed in the early 1970s, also promised volunteers, willing to work on the Gillis Falls project and programs there. "The county has a lot of good volunteers willing to work with youth in recreation, and we need to give them the places to do it," he said.

One other item the group added to the wish list: "We would like a lake," Stockdale said.

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