County approves mountain bike course at Rockburn park

Recreation and parks board vote unanimous

May 19, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A private group will be allowed to build a mountain bike training course in Rockburn Park in Elkridge, following a unanimous Wednesday vote by the county's Recreation and Parks Board to go ahead with the contested project.

The board had delayed a March vote on the matter after a contentious two-hour hearing in which people opposed to the project said it would bring more traffic, parking problems and loitering, as well as nighttime activity and drug use. Opponents also complained that the project had been rushed through without sufficient notice.

"I know there's opponents, but there's a whole lot more support," said board member Lowell Adams. Board Chairman Joel Goodman said he was "excited and hopeful that Howard County parks were going to provide a model for other communities."

John Byrd, director of Recreation and Parks, said no large trees would be cut down, and the narrow track course would be on relatively high ground to minimize wet spots. He said the county received 65 emails in favor of the course and 10 opposed to it.

"We're thrilled at the vote," said Jonathon J. Posner, who with his wife, Tracey, belong to the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, the regional bicycling group that wants to build the $30,000 course at its own expense. The next step, Posner said, is raising the money. "We've applied for a lot of grants," he said. Byrd said the county would not front the money. "We're not going to break ground until they have the funding," he said.

The board responded to criticism of the project by extending the time for public comment. Members toured and walked the proposed site, and discussed their findings before voting. None of the critics attended the voting session.

"Rockburn is a regional park, not a community park," said board member David Grabowski. "It's 415 acres, and only 12 percent is developed. It's the biggest park in the county. I think it's a good fit where it is," he said. The course would be in the center of the large park but near parking.

But Yvonne Rawleigh, a neighbor of the park and a critic of the bicycle course, later complained that her concerns had not been addressed. She said she rides her horses in the park and finds "they can't maintain what they already have." There are fallen trees that haven't been removed from trails, she said, and the parking lots are already overcrowded. Besides, she is worried about the county's ability to maintain the course if the private cycling group builds it and somehow backs out.

"We gave up" on the fight, she said, resigned that the board would approve it. "We knew it was a losing battle. They slid this under the rug."

But Posner said Rawleigh's fears are unfounded.

"This isn't going to add crowding to the parking lots," he said, because most club members ride their bikes to the park. Similarly, he said, bicycle enthusiasts aren't going to be trespassing in the park at night.

Melanie Nystrom, a volunteer who has worked to promote the idea of the course for two years, said she was so happy at hearing about the board's vote," I almost cried."

She said she too lives very close to the park and believes the fears are overblown. "I think the fear of the unknown is the problem."

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