Bel Air officials quietly celebrate major upgrades to Plumtree Park

The Town of Bel Air has spent the better part of seven years making considerable improvements and upgrades to Plumtree Park, which is just two blocks west of downtown.

Late Saturday afternoon, a small group of town officials were joined by members of their families and few adults and kids from the area to celebrate completion of the multi-faceted improvement project.

Also joining in were a male and a female mallard ducks who appear to have made the park their home and are more than likely going to have some ducklings scurrying about in the coming weeks.

Aside from the ducks, the turnout was low, but not unexpected, as the celebration was planned to be low-key. It had been scheduled for Friday afternoon but was postponed because of the threat of thunderstorms. That proved to be a wise decision, as it did storm Friday.

Town Economic Development Director Trish Heidenreich said the town secured the first of several state open space grants for the Plumtree Park makeover in 2007. That got the project going, and a lot was accomplished in the intervening several years.

"The first grant we received was for the opening up of the stream, then one for the culvert [on George Street] and it kept going," Heidenreich said.

The opening up, or daylighting, of Plumtree Run, which starts across Thomas Street from the park and flows half a dozen miles south and west to Winters Run, was a major undertaking that was completed in late 2012.

For 50 years, the stream had run along the park area in a buried culvert that was installed originally because of flooding issues in the area. In addition to restoring the stream to its normal course, the culvert under George Street was upgraded and rebuilt and the stream was cleaned out south of the culvert.

With the help of local scout troops and gardening enthusiasts, the banks of the newly daylighted stream were planted with native vegetation, although town Planning Director Kevin Small noted Saturday the contractor who mows the park got too close to the stream and some of the plantings will have to be redone.

The town also replaced all the equipment in both playground areas with new equipment and installed other structures, made from concrete but simulating stumps, logs and rocks, on the borders of the playgrounds.

A path of paving bricks was installed adjacent to Plumtree Run between Thomas Street and the parking lot on George Street and paths were also installed between the playgrounds. New benches were also placed around the park.

This year new lighting was installed along the path and a gazebo was placed in the small plaza between the two playgrounds.

Small noted there are still a few things to be done. For example, there is a memorial tree in the park whose plaque needs to refurbished, he and Heidenreich said.

Overall, the effect of the work has been beneficial, said Fran Johnson, who lives nearby and was in attendance Saturday.

"It used to be a little sketchy to walk through here after dark; I like what they did with the path and the lights," Johnson said, noting the changes have appeared to meet favor with the neighborhood children, too.

The park has something for people of all ages. In addition to being a pleasant place to walk and sit and for children to play, there's a full basketball court and plenty of shade.

Small said the next project on the agenda remains upgrades for Thomas Street. The town is considering installing a bike lane from Bond Street to Kelly Avenue and possibly constructing a trail/biking path linking Thomas Street and Kelly Avenue with the Kelly Fields athletic complex and the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail. Extensive new landscaping is also planned along the street.

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