The Atholton High School boy's lacrosse team practiced on the turf fields this week, and team members had positive things to say.

"We love the facilities; they're definitely the most comfortable thing," Matt Peart said, noting the artificial turf helps reduce the risk of injury.

Eliot Tarash said Blandair is "a good location" and will be beneficial for tournaments and rain-outs.

"It's a short drive, close to the school," Brendan O'Malley agreed. He said the artificial turf is "real soft" and "it doesn't hurt as much if you fall."

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The team members said they have previously practiced on artificial turf fields at Cedar Lane Park and Rockburn Branch Park.

Troy Stevenson, athletic director at nearby Oakland Mills High School, said the school will likely rent field time at Blandair. He said the school is in need of more field space for fall sports and the turf is a good feature "because you can play and practice on them in inclement weather."

An asphalt path behind the fields connects with the county's bike path, Gouin said. She also noted that everything in the park is wheelchair accessible.

Ball said the park is an important part of the county's efforts to create a walkable community.

"Every part of the county needs some recreation area that's relatively close," he said.

Long history

The 300 acres of land where Blandair Regional Park is being built for 200 years was a farm where wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops were grown. Its history traces back to colonial times when it was given as a land grant to the Talbot family.

Over the years, the property has been owned by members of the Dorsey, Howard and Weems families, all of which are prominent historical Howard County families.

The name Blandair came from Theodorick Bland, who bought the land in 1845 when he was chancellor of the state of Maryland. In the early 1900s, Blandair was used as a dairy farm until the Smith family bought the property in 1937 to raise horses.

The county, with assistance from the state's open space program, purchased the land from the Smith family in 1998 for $10.7 million. The land transfer was delayed for three years due to legal issues, so the county did not start working on a plan for the park until 2001.

With the help of a 23-member citizens' advisory committee, a Preliminary Master Plan was approved in 2003 and a final Master Plan in 2008.

Phase I construction began in December 2010 and will be completed this summer, with the addition of a picnic shelter and restroom facility.

The development of Blandair, which will cost an estimated $55 million, will include seven park development phases and one historic renovation phase.

Phase II construction — which will include two baseball fields, a playground, picnic shelter, parking lot and tennis courts on the southeast side of the park, directly across Oakland Mills Road from the Phase I area — could begin this summer, if it's funded in the fiscal year 2013 capital budget.

Ulman said that was "the current plan," but noted that, like every aspect of the budget, the park funding is up in the air until the county finds out what costs may be passed down from the state. He and other county officials said they hope to be able to fund a new phase each fiscal year.

"We see (Blandair) as a real oasis in the heart of Columbia," Ulman said.