Tree line gives way to sightline

Area near park is cleared to give planes clear view

June 03, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

There's always lots of activity within earshot of Maryland City Park, be it kids playing on the playground, canines chasing their friends, or, behind a thick line of trees, thousands of cars whizzing down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

But about a month ago, park-goers could hear something else on the western outskirts of Anne Arundel County: foresters chopping to the ground a stand of leafy trees that extended more than 100 yards along a walking trail, all to clear a path for airplanes.

Not many park wanderers know that across Brock Bridge Road rests a sleepy airfield, Suburban Airport - and that the runway starts just a couple of hundred yards from the fenced-in dog park.

At the request of the Maryland Aviation Administration, the county recently clear-cut dozens of trees. For weeks afterward, dog owners wondered what would become of the barren patch of sawdust where the trees once buffered Brock Bridge Road from the park.

The answer is more trees. County foresters have begun planting dozens of diminutive trees that won't need to be trimmed back and won't impede the landing path. The efforts are expected to be completed within a few weeks.

"We won't have to go through this issue every five years," said Mark Garrity, the county's chief of natural and cultural resources.

Frank C. Fields, a Jessup resident who keeps a single-engine plane at Suburban, agreed with the county's decision. "Definitely with the trees being gone," he said, "it's going to make for a much safer flight pattern, which is what everyone wants to see."

Others who frequent the airport said they were pleased that the county made the cuts, although few said the presence of the 50-foot trees at the park's edge posed a serious safety concern. Carl Kesselring, a manager at Suburban, said there has not been a crash at the airport since 1994.

Fewer than 20 airplanes are kept at Suburban, Kesselring said. In the mid-1990s, more than 70 airplanes were reported as being based there.

"Taking the trees down does make it safer," Kesselring said, but the height of the trees didn't create "a dire situation."

The airport rests on 54 acres on the west side of Brock Bridge Road. When planes, mostly of the single-engine variety, prepare to land, they typically approach the airport from the south and glide over the parkway and the grassy park onto the 2,400-foot runway.

About 15 years ago, Fields said, he had asked the county to cut down trees on the airport grounds on each end of the runway, "but they had no money and no provisions to get it done." So with the consent of the airport's owner, Fields, who owned a construction company at the time, and friends used chainsaws, backhoes and bulldozers to cut back the vegetation around the 2,400-foot runway.

"Trees grow back," Fields said. "If you cut them down, they come back tomorrow."

For airports to maintain their public-use designation, obstructions to the flight path must be removed, said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Each of Maryland's 35 airports is inspected at least once a year by state regulators, Dean said. If the facilities are not in compliance, airports can be shut down by the aviation administration, he said.

Dean said that in situations similar to Suburban's, the state encourages the airport and the local government to devise a remedy. He said the county's decision to clear-cut trees in front of the airport and replant the area was the preferable approach.

The park's users can't wait for the trees to come back, if just to keep the roar of the Brock Bridge traffic at bay.

Danielle Williams, 27, a Russett resident who last week brought her pit bull puppy, Asia, to the park to toss a baseball, said, "I prefer the dogs not to see the cars; it's kind of a distraction."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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