Panel bringing focus to park plans

Sports fields discussed at Blandair meeting


January 22, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The fuzzy future of Blandair Farm is coming into focus.

Citizens in the early stages of planning the 300-acre park in the heart of Columbia have suggested a potpourri of ideas: six to 10 sports fields, gardens for children, walking trails, Outward Bound challenges, a nature center, an in-line skate park, even space for the National Audubon Society to offer environmental education.

The Blandair Committee is still months away from making an official recommendation to the county about how to use the expansive property split by Route 175, but members will begin pulling together a plan shortly and hope to hold public hearings by early summer.

At a meeting last night, the committee's "active recreation" group - dealing with the touchiest subject on the committee's plate - suggested that playing fields be split between the property's south and north sides, buffered from neighborhoods by trees, berms and other greenery.

Sports groups, lobbying for more playing fields in Howard County, say there aren't nearly enough to go around, while some Blandair neighbors are leery of the increased traffic and noise fields would bring. The land is surrounded by homes.

"We have a special challenge," said Bridget Mugane, who is chairwoman of the active recreation group and lives near the park. "Blandair is the first regional park in the county - and possibly the state - to be placed in a densely populated area. We have to be sure we don't cause undue traffic congestion in an area that already has its problems, or undue light or noise."

The flip side is that the park is quickly accessible to lots of people: "Within five miles of this site, we have probably half the county's population," said committee member Paul R. Farragut, a former county councilman.

The active recreation group recommended that the county provide access to both sides of the park from Route 175 and close a portion of Oakland Mills Road as it runs through the south end of Blandair so drivers won't cut through.

Members also suggested pavilions and playgrounds on both sides; a dog park, possibly on the north side; a skate park on the south side; and, next to that, a multipurpose building where basketball and volleyball players could practice.

The Blandair Committee's two other subcommittees have already made suggestions. The group focusing on historic preservation recommended in November against constructing anything new on a third of the farm - land around the 19th-century mansion and outbuildings - unless it contributes to the goal of historic and cultural interpretation. The buildings lie to the north of Route 175.

The group focusing on environmental issues suggested last month that the county save space for a children's garden meant for playing in; a working garden where high schoolers could learn entrepreneurial skills; a small amphitheater for music, plays and speeches; a nature center to educate people about the environment; and an Outward Bound course to teach teamwork, along with dorms to house people overnight.

Members also suggested that the county team up with the National Audubon Society, which wants to open 1,000 nature education centers across the country by 2020, including one in Howard County.

"We're very much interested," said Dave Pardoe, a Columbia resident who sits on the National Audubon Society's board of directors and the Blandair Committee. "I think that location and the Thunder Hill area there is ideal. The school-age population base is there."

The environmental group also suggested renaming the land Thunder Hill Park.

Members of the active recreation group liked some of those ideas so much that their plan last night included space for the children's garden and nature center.

"I'm not sure it's going to be that tough to meld the plans," said committee member Jim Eacker.

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