Week In Review

December 18, 2005

Park volunteerism earns black eye

Volunteers are supposed to help. They're not supposed to help themselves to our land and our critters.

But that's what has been happening at a few of Maryland's parks. The wheels of change are starting to turn, but why did it take so long? Consider:

Wildlife researchers find one of their radio-collared deer dead and hanging behind the house of a Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area volunteer. The field tag indicates the deer was killed at a time when the telemetry indicates the animal was still mobile.

Another of the researchers' collars has to be retrieved from a Virginia taxidermy studio, where it was to be used on a head mount as a joke.

At Rocks State Park in Harford County, someone - investigators believe it's a volunteer - cut handy ATV trails from private property, ruining a prime bow-hunting site.

At Gunpowder Falls State Park, a makeshift waterfowl blind on the shore of Days Cove is apparently off limits to the public because park personnel and their friends have dibs.

At Susquehanna State Park, the blinds always seem to be reserved. Hunters lucky enough to punch through the obstacles have arrived to find that a "guide" (actually a felon on Harford County's sex offender list) and his clients have invoked squatter's rights. The "guide" is taking commercial parties on public land without a license, yet park officials don't lift a finger to stop him.

Behind the check station at Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, there's a tree stand for the use of park volunteers, who aren't required to jump through the same hoops as regular stiffs to win a spot at the lottery-style managed hunts.

The list goes on.

In rare cases, someone gets his knuckles whacked. A volunteer at a Cecil County wildlife management area was arrested and charged with theft last year after he helped himself to the deer tenderloins as he field-dressed other hunters' kills.

The state park service, an arm of the Department of Natural Resources, is filled with dedicated volunteers who fill the holes left by an ever-decreasing budget. For example, the night before the opening of trout season, volunteers at Patapsco Valley State Park sleep in their cars at the gate off U.S. 1 so that they can unlock it before dawn for eager anglers jockeying for position.

Candus Thomson column, Thursday, Dec. 15. Sports, Page 9C.

Minister's chalice, paten recovered

He's a man of faith, but even the Rev. James Barker started to doubt he would see his beloved chalice and paten again.

Armed robbers took the religious items from a Bel Air jewelry store last month, along with $800,000 in gems. But the arrests of three suspects and recovery of much of the merchandise last week didn't include the heirloom chalice.

With the 25th anniversary of his ordination recently and the approach of the Christmas worship season, the situation looked bleak.

"My people kept telling me to have faith," he said of his Roman Catholic congregation at St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill.

Tuesday, the items were returned to Barker by Harford County police. Investigators offered few details of how the items were found but said someone came forward because of information found while executing a search warrant the previous week. The items were turned over to police Monday.

"It traveled to us through third parties that were able to get it," said Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly. "It's one of these things where we're glad we got it and we're not asking a lot of questions."

Brian O'Neal Hodge, 39, and Corey Rueben Cooper, 26, both of Gwynn Oak in Baltimore County, were arrested and are being held without bail on numerous charges related to armed robberies of J&M Jewelers in Bel Air and Bromwell Jewelers in Timonium last month. Rodnell Shirley James, who police say posed as Hodge's fiancee in the robbery of the Timonium store, also was arrested.

The arrests came with a twist. Investigators were led to Hodge after Baltimore police Officer David Williamson's wife pawned some of the stolen goods at a Dundalk shop, police say. According to charging documents, Williamson's attorney told police that the officer had recovered the items during a traffic stop and handgun arrest of Hodge on Nov. 17 and went to pawn them.

Baltimore police say Williamson has been suspended with pay, and an investigation is con- tinuing.

Word that the arrests had not led to the recovery of the chalice and paten - a small metal plate - troubled the pastor.

"He's very distraught," Robert I. Lehr, the church's deacon and business manager, said Thursday. "He was hoping to have it back for midnight Mass at Christmas."

Barker's chalice was made from hammered pewter and plated with silver. The monetary value of it was "not great," he said. But it contained two diamonds of tremendous sentimental value.

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