Balto. County officials focus on giving north-area youths more room to run

2 sites looked at as remedies for park, playing field shortage

October 11, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

With hundreds of children signed up to play sports in northern Baltimore County and few county-owned places to practice or compete, the area's recreation councils have historically scraped together whatever extra space they could - even if it meant a per-child cost to lease fields.

"The fields are nice and nobody is complaining about the $15 charge per kid," said Eric van den Beemt, the president of the Hereford Zone Recreation Council. "Except, everywhere else in the county, they play [only] on county fields and it doesn't cost a thing."

Recreation and county officials say the lack of county parks in the north has long been a problem, a noticeable omission in an area with popular sports programs.

But two different efforts - one in Maryland Line, the other in Freeland - may result in county park space in the near future.

County officials say they have been working with a north county family on the possible purchase of a 178-acre site in Maryland Line that has two fishing ponds. And recreation council officials continue to work with a local developer who may donate another parcel along Middletown Road in the Freeland area, van den Beemt said.

Both efforts are far from complete. The county must analyze appraisals on the Maryland Line property and negotiate with family members. And while there's available federal and state money to buy the property, the county would need to budget for and build fields.

Progress on using the Freeland property for recreation has been delayed because of a mistake made during the recent comprehensive rezoning process, van den Beemt said. That mistake is expected to be remedied, officials said.

Still, "we have every reason to be cautiously optimistic that [the councils] will get what they need," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican. "And I'll be absolutely delighted."

That's not to say there's no county-owned playing space at all in northern Baltimore County. Recreation programs are run at elementary schools in the area, Hereford Middle School and a small park on the former site of the old Sparks Elementary School, which was destroyed in a fire in 1995.

But while other county recreation councils have long lists of park and school space for field use, the children who participate in programs in the north often have to make do with limited playing time on fields that are booked solid, van den Beemt said.

That means the Hereford Zone Recreation Council also must rent space at the Genessee Valley Outdoor Learning Center in Parkton for about 500 youths to play lacrosse in the spring - a cost of about $7,500 to the council and indirectly to the parents of the children in the program. It also means limiting the number of soccer teams.

With the space crunch at a premium, van den Beemt said he and others began searching for more fields about four years ago. Last year, too, the county began researching possible properties, said Pat McDougall, a planner for the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.

"The driving force has probably been the recreation councils," McDougall said.

But there was little movement until the Yarema family's property in Maryland Line came to the county's notice and an area developer floated the idea of donating land in Freeland to the recreation council, officials said.

The Maryland Line property, which has been in Carl Yarema's family since the 1940s, has played host to Yarema family functions and others' political and social functions over the years. A piece is currently being used by a farmer who rents land to grow soybeans and corn, Yarema said. The property, which is owned by a family trust, "takes a lot of work to maintain," Yarema said.

"A lot of people have moved up here and there are a lot of children in recreation," said Yarema, a 70-year-old Sparks resident. "They tell me it's something that's needed."

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