Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

October 27, 2002

Patapsco park better without tourism area

In its coverage of the long-running controversy over development in the Patapsco Valley State Park (the so-called Patapsco Heritage "Greenway" project), The Sun unfortunately continues to perpetuate a series of myths which confuse rather than inform readers about this critical issue.

The Sierra Club is spearheading the protection effort in the Patapsco Valley, but it is doing so in full alliance with the Audubon Society of Central Maryland, the Patapsco Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and the overarching umbrella group, the Maryland Conservation Council.

The environmental community as a whole supports low impact recreation in our state parks, including bicycle paths - but not constructing them where they destroy vital and increasingly threatened natural resources, i.e. 1) fish, bird and wildlife habitat; 2) the riparian (streamside) forests, streams and wetlands that serve as air and water filters; and 3) the integrity of our state parks as public lands, not sources of private profit.

"Private interests," under the leadership of the developer Charles Wagandt, have targeted the Patapsco Valley for development into a Heritage Tourism Area, which is slated to become one of the East Coast's major tourist attractions.

As much as 80 percent of that tourism area will be on state (i.e. public) park land. Preliminary plans already call for more parking lots, more roads and more paved "trails" (10-foot wide asphalt corridors) in the park.

The Heritage Tourism Area's bike path is not about connecting our communities, or increasing access for residents, or the handicapped.

Originally designed to provide a "wedge" to gain popular support, the paved trail will connect the Heritage Area's various tourist attractions and provide sale-boosting amenities for Mr. Wagandt's and Dr. Taylor's park-side developments.

That is why every community association from Oella, to St. Denis, Relay, and Elkridge have voted either to disassociate themselves from this project, or be excluded from its boundaries.

Last week, the Ellicott City Resident's Association issued a call for the Heritage Tourism Area's backers to step forward and present their plans to the public, prior to gaining access to millions of dollars in state tourism funds.

The "private interests" behind the Heritage Tourism Area have deep pockets.

The bidding war over the private property blocking the Tourism Area's first paved trail project directly pits environmentalists and the Valley's communities against the leading local developers.

Help protect our public lands, wildlife habitat, and our communities.

Lee Walker Oxenham

Ellicott City

The writer chairs the Sierra Club's Patapsco Task Force.

Howard High School needs attention now

The Board of Education is expected to make critical recommendations concerning improvements at Howard High School this November.

Parents need to take action in these remaining weeks to ensure that the inequities and deficits which have existed at our 50-year-old school for years are addressed completely, without further delay.

A list of "problems left unattended" was generated by parents, administrators, board members, and county representatives in September 2001 and encompassed four legal-sized pages.

These issues included: Non-existent fire sprinkler systems, undersized cafeteria, outdated auditorium and sound system, ineffectual heating/cooling systems, lack of handicap accessibility in many areas.

In addition, the very cramped administration-main entry area has essentially no observable area for noting activity through the main entrance - be it tardy students or unwelcome visitors.

Howard High's classrooms are 30 percent smaller than those in the new schools, with narrow hallways and stairwell.

And Howard is the only county high school with only one gymnasium for use, resulting in scheduling scenarios where basketball teams practice until 10 p.m. on weekdays and wrestling teams cart their 800-pound mats some 600-feet from storage to the cafeteria and back.

The current dance studio is actually a small classroom without proper flooring or barres. The Child Development-Home Economics area is located in the center of the building. Preschool-aged children and adults must travel through hallways filled with teen-agers to reach their center.

Outside play occurs in a very small central courtyard shared with our adolescent students. There is no playground.

And lack of practice space forces the soccer and lacrosse teams to travel to Phelps Luck Elementary.

Football teams must practice on the softball and baseball fields and compromise these playing surfaces. The band practices in parking lots.

Howard was scheduled for an addition in 2004 (after repeated delays) to facilitate an enrollment increases to 1,400 students and attend to much-needed renovations.

However, the superintendent's proposed capital budget, presented on Sept. 26, delays the project until 2006.

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