A large tract of south Carroll County woodland bought years ago for a reservoir may now be developed into the county's first park with an extensive trail system for bicyclists and birders, hikers and horseback riders.
An initial master plan for Gillis Falls Park will be presented at a meeting at 7:30 p.m. today at Mount Olive Methodist Church's education building, at 2927 Gillis Falls Road in Woodbine.
"It's a preliminary plan, and the idea is, this is a starting point," said Richard J. Soisson, the county's director of recreation and parks. "We want to get input from the community - whether they like it, their suggestions."
The county began acquiring land for a reservoir in the mid-1980s, but withdrew its request for a state permit in the 1990s and decided to use the area for recreation, he said. The land could be used for a water supply if the need arose.
For more than three years, the county has been planning to develop some of the 1,200 acres of woods, fields and stream valleys without permanent structures that would significantly interfere with any use as a reservoir.
"The emphasis in the park will be the trails," Soisson said.
There would be about 18 miles of more formal and accessible trails - comparable to the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Baltimore County, he said. The trails would have a small paved portion, with most covered in gravel.
There would be a few primitive campsites, he said, but no ball fields, swimming pool or other more developed features. Salt Box Park along Gillis Falls Road is a smaller facility with two softball fields, a playground and parking.
Carolyn Garber, president of the Carroll County Equestrian Council, said her group of about 100 members supports the plan. The equestrian center is on Grimville Road, in the reservoir land, where loop trails remain from an old camp, she said.
"This will be a great complement to the Carroll County Equestrian Center," she said. "It will bring a public use and public access to the trails," including expanded horse trails and more room to roam for hikers, bicyclists, in-line skaters and wheelchair users. "Our organization is very excited about this new project and definitely in full support of expanded uses."
But some neighboring residents are concerned about trespassers and motorcyclists and the policing of such a large park, said Kenneth L. Stockdale. A lifelong resident of the area and president of the Woodbine-Mount Airy Recreation Council for about 20 years, he remembers talk of the reservoir from 30 years ago.
Stockdale said he would rather see the money spent for ball fields - preferably in neighborhoods - to meet the demands of adult and children's leagues.
"I don't hike or ride a bike," he said. "There are tons of athletic programs down here that don't have any fields," he said.
But Stockdale said he doesn't have any strong objections to the proposal for the land because "it could be worse."
The county hired Patton Harris Rust & Associates - a Columbia-based engineering, planning and landscape architectural firm - to develop the preliminary master plan to be presented tonight.
"What's bringing this all about now is, I had some money in the capital budget," Soisson said, including $60,000 for the plan and some preliminary work. Money for the park from Maryland's Program Open Space and from impact fees from new development designated for recreation totals about $902,000.
"We hope to eventually have 18 miles of trails. The largest straight-through trail would be about five miles," he said. "I think this will be a really nice addition to the park system for Carroll County."