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Trails blocked in state park as Bloede Dam removal project kicks off

Sections of the popular Grist Mill and Buzzards Rock trails in Patapsco Valley State Park were closed Tuesday for a months-long construction project to remove Bloede Dam from the Patapsco River.

Closures of the paved trails are expected to last until the spring of 2019, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources. An unpaved detour trail around the work area is available.

“The disturbance for the next couple years is gonna be a real pain, there’s no getting around that,” said Dave Ferraro, treasurer of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park, an advocacy group. “But it is my opinion that it’s worth it. When that dam is gone, not only will it be safer, but I think that the parks service and DNR won’t have to manage it as much.”

The $15 million to $18 million project, on the drawing boards for years, will start with moving a sewer line that runs along the river near Catonsville and Oella.

Park access along the Patapsco River will be closed from Ilchester Road to an area just downstream of the dam. The area includes about a half-mile of Grist Mill Trail and access to the riverbank, according to DNR.

Bloede Dam was built in 1907 as a hydroelectric dam to power Catonsville and Ellicott City. Sediment often clogged the dam’s turbines and it was shut down in 1932.

“This waterway is in need of some TLC,” said Stephen Schatz, a DNR spokesman. “We are hoping that when this dam project is complete the water’s flowing, aquatic species are flowing through, and it’s a safer environment for park visitors and users.”

Ferraro, of the Friends of Patapsco group who lives on River Road in Catonsville less than a half mile from the dam, said bike commuters often used the trail.

Hikers and mountain-bikers can use a natural trail called the Buzzards Rock Reroute, Ferraro said. However, those with accessibility issues or on road bikes will have to take Ilchester or Frederick roads.

Mary Catherine Cochran, director of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area, said blocking off the section of Grist Mill Trail concerns her because it is the only fully wheelchair-accessible trail in the park.

“There’s lots of other wonderful trails,” Cochran said, “But in terms of an accessible trail, the Grist Mill is one of the regional go-to trails in the area.”

The group is using a Facebook post to list nearby trails that people in wheelchairs or with strollers can access, including Catonsville’s Trolley Trail No. 9, the Centennial Park loop and the Meadowbrook Park trail in Ellicott City.

Ferraro said that removing the dam will allow recreation on the Patapsco to flourish by opening a path for kayakers that will stretch from north of Ellicott City to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Fish and eel also will be able to more easily swim upstream, according to DNR.

Although there are warning signs and swimming is not allowed near the dam, Schatz said, “People are people, and sometimes the risk is in itself their reward.” There have been nine deaths involving risk-seekers around the dam since the mid-1980s.

Five acres of trees will be cleared to make way for construction, DNR said. Trees will be replanted as the work wraps up.

Work was scheduled to begin in the spring of 2016, but was postponed while agencies granted approval to move the sewer line and permit other construction.

“It just took a little longer than expected to get this project off the ground,” said Schatz.

Scott Westcoat, owner of the HUB bike shop in Catonsville, said the feedback from customers about the project is mostly along the lines of “I wish they would hurry up and get it done.”

“The people I’ve been speaking with are just happy it’s actually happening,” he said.

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