Oregon Ridge Nature Center hosts 3-weekends of Tubing trips… (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh,…)
Many Monkton residents call last summer "the invasion of the tubers."
For the past year or so, they have been working closely with the Baltimore County Police Department and other state and county agencies to ensure that their quiet North County village on the Gunpowder River doesn't suffer another major disruption like last summer's.
The county police in particular want hard-partying Gunpowder tubers to beware.
When the weather warms enough, officers will be in the area, writing parking tickets and handing out citations for public drunkenness and violations of open container laws.
"I want the word to get out," said Lt. Bob McGraw, of the Cockeysville Precinct. He serves as community outreach officer for Monkton.
"We will also have officers on bikes up and down the Northern Central Railroad Trail for a 4-mile stretch north and south of Monkton, looking for underage drinking, open containers, public urination or other disorderly behavior," McGraw added.
Monkton is next to the Gunpowder Falls State Park, the river and the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail (formerly the Northern Central Railroad Trail), which runs through the park.
"We figure if we come out strong in the beginning it will deter people from creating havoc up in the Monkton area for the rest of the season," McGraw said.
Tubing lazily down the Gunpowder has been a popular pastime in and around Monkton for years. And for years, tubers, for the most part, have coexisted peacefully with residents, hikers, bikers and fisherman.
"For years, it's been very pleasant," said longtime resident Carol Stevenson, one of the principal organizers of an ad hoc community group that spent most of the winter trying to head off another invasion.
Stevenson said everything changed last summer, when the tubers took over.
"Monkton village itself was just overrun with tubers. Because of a combination of the hot weather and the arrival of a new vendor, who was renting tubes out of his truck along the side of the road, it became 'the tuber wars'.
"By the middle of the summer it got so bad you couldn't drive through town, down Monkton Road. There were cars parked illegally all over the place, along the road, on the bridge, along the side roads.
"It was very unsafe and there was lots of alcohol abuse. We were afraid there was going to be a major accident."
This mayhem was ignited when two tube rental companies became locked in a bitter competition and price war.
They also began offering a brand-new service: free shuttles back and forth from Monkton to the river, not only for tubers and their tubes but also for their coolers full of alcoholic beverages.
"It made an easy way for tubers to bring a lot of alcohol without having to carry it," Stevenson recalled.
Noise, trespassing, drinking
"We had incredible noise problems and people doing indecent things. There was a lot of trespassing and abuse of private property and a lot of alcohol abuse.
The situation got so bad that Stevenson and her neighbors rallied at community meetings and appealed for help to the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council, Baltimore County 3rd District Councilmen Bryan McIntire and Todd Huff (who defeated McIntire in last year's election), as well as Capt. Marty Lurz, the Cockeysville Precinct commander.
"Eventually we got representatives from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police, the State Highway Administration, county roads administrators, the Maryland Public Service Commission. The only ones we didn't get any cooperation from were the Baltimore City Watershed Police," Stevenson said.
The community faced an added challenge in so far as so many different agencies have jurisdiction in a matter that involves not only the river, but also the park, the trail and nearby state and county roads.
Passing the buck
Occasionally these separate jurisdictions intersected and overlapped, but for the most part they didn't.
"It makes it hard to do anything because nobody really has control over the whole thing," Stevenson said.
At the community's urging, Councilman Huff used another tool to address the problem. He submitted a bill, which the council passed, that amends the county's huckster laws to include vendors who rent as well as those who sell.
This was aimed at Gary Kloch, whose company, Gary's Tube Rentals, started renting tubes at a roadside stand in Monkton two summers ago, setting off the bitter competition. Until the huckster law was amended, Kloch didn't need a license.
"Without a permit, nobody had any control over him," Huff said. "Now he has to pull a permit and follow the guidelines, and he has something tangible that he can lose if things get out of hand."
Tube vendor responds
Kloch said he realized the situation had gotten out of hand.
"It was so stinkin' hot last summer, it was mobbed up there," Kloch said. "Kids would bring too much booze and get totally screwed up, and they'd be going down the river yelling (expletives)."