A college course in sledding

Hill: In Westminster, there is no better place to play in the snow, but plans for a pond could end the fun.

February 10, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When Zechariah and Moses Weaver woke up at their grandmother's house early on a snowy morning, the Westminster woman knew just the place to send the young snow bunnies.

Known simply as the Hill -- or sometimes the College Hill or even the Golf Course -- the sprawling knoll atop a steep fairway at Westminster's McDaniel College is a tried-and-true sledding heaven. The visiting Leonardtown residents were about to experience a Carroll County landmark that has been luring students, families and out-of-towners on cold winter days when even the scantiest snowfall means the private property becomes public.

"They were wild with excitement," said Rita Weaver, keeping a watchful eye on her snow-covered children, 9-year-old Zechariah and 3-year-old Moses. "Where we live, there's not much snow and there's nothing like this hill, so if it's snowing at 5 in the morning, we're out there playing because by 9 a.m. it's going to be melted."

If you trust the tracks in the powder, the Weavers were among the first ones to make it through the newly fallen snow to the hill at the beginning of the white weekend. With the snow still falling about 9:30 a.m. Friday, Zechariah's laughter carried across the quiet, snow-blanketed landscape.

Within a half-hour, however, sledders and snowboarders were trudging in from all directions and slicing new paths across the hill on oversized inner tubes, fluorescent plastic sleds and saucers and snowboards of all sizes.

By yesterday afternoon, bald spots had surfaced in the melting snow on the hill and sledders -- some out all weekend -- had figured out how to maximize their sledding time.

Craig Rinehart, 43, of Union Bridge was duct-taping his youngest daughter's hot-pink mittens to her pale-pink snow suit to keep her from pulling them off on their trips downhill.

"I must have put her gloves on 30 times this morning, when I thought of this idea," he said, giving the duct-taped gloves a firm tug. "This is going to make my afternoon much more enjoyable."

Rinehart and his children, Craig, 6; Katelynn, 3; and Sarah, almost 2, had trekked to the county's most popular spot with their father five times over the weekend and showed no signs of sledding burnout.

If forecasters were right, a fast-moving low-pressure system carrying plenty of Gulf Coast moisture wound its way northeast overnight and could dump up to 3 inches in parts of Maryland this morning -- just in time for the morning commute. Snowfall was expected to begin during the pre-dawn hours and end by early afternoon.

It's unclear how many more idyllic days winter revelers will spend on the hill if long-planned changes to the golf course stay on schedule. What is clear is that they have been trekking to the college's wide open spaces for much of the last century.

College historian James Lightner, who taught mathematics for nearly 40 years at what was then known as Western Maryland College, remembers careening down a different hill on large dining room trays when he was a student in the 1950s.

When a newly built chapel and road got in the students' way in the 1960s and the college bought the hilly farmland adjacent to the campus, and expanded its golf course, sledders found another home. The new spot became the new hill.

"It's quite a town thing," said Lightner, who is retired. "It's a fairly steep hill, probably the best in town that didn't have some impediments that you'd run into. Part of the allure is that it's open like that -- there are a number of hills in town, but most have houses on them or streets, so this is pretty singular in its greatness."

For three seasons a year, it's common knowledge that the fairways and greens on the hill are off limits to everyone but the college's golf teams and the civilian duffers.

No carousing. No touch football games. No moonlit strolls. Even runners on the college's athletic teams have strict orders to stick to the perimeter of the hill.

But during winter, those restrictions go out the window.

What makes the hill great, veteran visitors say, is its breadth, its slope and, especially its bumps. They have taken to the hill on everything from dorm mattresses and lids off laundry carriers to the most technologically advanced sleds.

"This is the best hill in Carroll County," said Angie Shipp of Finksburg, who was watching her son, 7-year-old Ricky, snowboard the hill and serving as his snowball target. "We come here every time it snows."

War stories, minor legends and family memories with the hill as the backdrop abound.

Taylor Smith, 10, remembers the time she, her father and her older brother all piled onto the same sled and ended up scattered across the hill in heaps.

Tracey Clabaugh-Reider recalls the afternoon this winter when her 11-year-old son brought her father's Red Runner sled, drawing disdain and ridicule from children with newer sleds -- until they took a turn on its well-soaped blades.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.