Budget ills may allow only dreams of fields

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 19, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

OPENING MORE baseball diamonds and sorely needed fields for soccer and lacrosse at two new Howard County parks could be postponed by at least a year if the current local-government budget crunch worsens.

Gary J. Arthur, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, said in an interview that if contingency plans the county executive has are needed to address the budget crisis, his department will not be able to staff crews needed to maintain the new fields.

They're being built in Glenwood's Western Regional Park and in Meadowbrook Park in Ellicott City.

Affected at Meadowbrook would be three baseball/softball diamonds and a large multi- purpose field under construction in the southeast quadrant of Route 100 and U.S. 29.

Three more diamonds in two multipurpose fields in the first phase of Western Regional Park would be affected, Arthur said.

As it is now, the fields are not expected to be finished until late next summer, timing that Arthur said also could be delayed if another severe winter compounds wet-ground problems that hampered crews this summer.

Any delay would hurt Western Howard County Youth Soccer and Western Howard County Baseball and Softball, recreation-level programs that have virtually exploded in enrollment in the past three years or so.

People in those programs, Arthur acknowledged, "have been waiting a long time, it's true, but they might have to wait another year. ... It's going to be a tough couple years coming up."

A shortage of school ball fields in the western county has forced many teams to offer few practice sessions, with teams able only to play games - not the best way to teach sports to children.

The Meadowbrook fields are intended to help youth and adult programs in the central part of the county.

Weather worries

It's difficult to discern from just driving the edges of Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, but Maryland's extended run of wet weather, which began about this time a year ago, is hampering renovation there.

"We are 60 days into the project ... and the work was only supposed to last 45 days," Bob Bellamy, the Columbia Park and Recreation Association's operations director, told course members this month.

"Construction was to have ended on Sept. 17. In that time, we've had 20 rain days, equaling 13.25 inches, causing 25 days of either no work or no meaningful work. The biggest problem has been the inability to transport material [stone and mix] to the greens site[s].

"The haul roads have been a muddy mess. They've resorted at times to pulling their trucks through these areas with chains and bulldozers."

To compound matters, Bellamy said, "rain has damaged several of the areas that we were preparing for the temporary greens [so the course could be used this fall and early winter], so we have to move them and start over again."

What this means is, probably, a later course opening time next spring.

"We would hope that it would be at least by June 1, but certainly can't be sure," Bellamy said.

Insider's job

We know all of you in amateur sports aren't accustomed to publicity. But if you're involved in leading participants in a winter sport in Howard County, we have a favor to ask:

Please think about people - coaches, players, parents, volunteers - who make your organization special and who deserve public notice. Think about programs you've devised that might be unique. Think about issues that others might have opinions about.

This applies to the larger organizations, too, including the $50 million-a-year Columbia Park and Recreation Association. It has some nice facilities and, we suspect, some excellent, competitive, amateur athletes - except that in 3 1/2 years of doing this column and page, no one in the association has voluntarily suggested a single member as noteworthy.

Don't be shy about this.

Call us at 410-332-6525, or shoot us an e-mail at lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com. We listen to all suggestions and welcome them.

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