It's been a long time coming.
That's what you'll hear from anyone involved in the 14-plus years of planning and development of Blandair Regional Park, the first portion of which is scheduled to open Saturday, March 17.
"It's been an ongoing labor of love," said County Council member Calvin Ball, who represents and lives in Oakland Mills, where the south end of the park is being built.
"I feel overjoyed about the opportunity for recreation and play areas for folks in the east side of the county, and for everyone to really see it as a great neighborhood amenity. ... It's a culmination of so much work and energy and time and community investment."
A playground and three artificial turf fields, complete with bleachers and press boxes, make up the first portion of the east Columbia park.
While some teams were authorized to practice on the fields this past week, Blandair's official opening will come at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday at 9:30 a.m., with Ball, County Executive Ken Ulman and other local officials on hand.
The grand opening also will serve as the kickoff of the Gary J. Arthur Memorial Lacrosse Tournament, a preseason event for club/select lacrosse teams being held in honor of the late director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks.
"I'm really pleased to be finally opening Phase l," Ulman said. "There is no county regional park on the east side of Columbia. I think it's overdue and it's going to provide a tremendous amenity package for residents of that area and the entire county."
It's not just county officials who are excited.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful asset to our community." Oakland Mills resident Karen Gray said. "It will be really nice to have such a great amenity right there in our backyard."
$55 million park
The 25-acre, $6.7 million Phase l portion of Blandair is located on the south side of the park, just west of Oakland Mills Road. The entire park site, which straddles Route 175 between Thunder Hill Road and Tamar Drive, is 300 acres — about 100 acres on the south side in Oakland Mills and about 200 acres on the north side in Long Reach.
Developing the entire park is expected to cost $55 million and take several years.
"The north side is the more pastoral, natural setting," Ulman said. "The south side is more of the recreational amenities."
The Phase l playground equipment is separated into an area for children ages 2 through 5 and an area for children ages 5 through 12. Blandair will be the first county park to have a playground where the surface is covered in artificial turf.
County park planner Clara Gouin said the soft surface "will reduce any injures that children might have from falls."
The three artificial turf fields, though not the first at county parks, will help accommodate a growing demand for field space, Ulman said.
"It's been a challenge to keep kids off of the fields over the last few weeks," he said, noting the fields are fenced-in and the park area has been blocked off until the opening.
With bleachers, press boxes and overhead lighting, the fields can be used for multiple sports. Yellow lines mark the boundaries for soccer, white for football, red for men's lacrosse and blue for women's lacrosse.
'We love the facilities'