By Todd Karpovich, Special to The Baltimore Sun
4:31 PM EDT, March 29, 2012
Karen Druffel can walk outside her door in Elkridge almost anytime and find people from all over the region using the Rockburn Skills Park for mountain bikers and trail runners.
The attention is impressive, considering the park is not even supposed to be fully functional until June 2, says Druffel, a volunteer with the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), which spearheaded the park's creation.
"The community has been phenomenal," she said this week. "We were a bit worried because there are people who are pro-biking and people who are anti-biking. … It's been great."
When finished, the park will have four lines and a pump track in Rockburn Branch Park. The pump track — where the rider powers the bike by pumping and pulling on it rather than by peddling — was unveiled in October and was reopened this month, drawing mountain bikers from as a far away as Delaware and West Virginia.
"It has turned out to be a huge success," Druffel said. "You can go out there any day of the week and there are always people on the track, nonstop. It goes from 3-year-olds on tricycles to people in their 60s, and everything in between."
The total cost of the park, which is free to the public, is expected to be about $150,000. MORE has raised about $45,000 toward a goal of $60,000, while the rest of the funds and labor will come through volunteer hours, in-kind service, donations and grants.
The park also includes a pavilion and a facility for families to develop their skills. While there are other pump tracks in the state, Rockburn will be the first with a full-fledged skills track. Druffel said volunteers will play a large role in the final construction of the park.
"Once we get all of the remaining trails built, it will definitely be drawing people from all over the East Coast," she said.
The park hasn't been a hit with all residents, however. There were initial concerns about cost, increased traffic and environmental damage. The county brought in sediment control officials to determine the new park will not have an adverse effect on the surrounding environment.
In March of last year, Howard County resident Ben Cooperman sent a letter to The Baltimore Sun outlining some of the concerns residents had with the proposed park. A public meeting with Howard County recreation and parks officials was held March 16, 2011, at which residents asked that more studies be done before plans for the park moved forward.
Cooperman, who is a bicyclist, said Wednesday that he is still worried that the project has yet to be fully financed. He said traffic is already a problem during busy weekends in the area and that the new courses will likely only add to the congestion.
"I think it was disingenuous to approve a project before full funding was obtained," Cooperman said. "If they don't have full funding now, how are you going to be able to have ongoing maintenance for a facility like that? Is it nice to have a place for kids and adults to do their thing? Sure, no one is going to disagree with that. But if you can't maintain the current infrastructure, then you shouldn't add more."
Melanie Nystrom, who helped develop the project for MORE and lives near the park, said she has no concerns about the Rockburn Skills Park being fully functional by June. She said support among the local business community has been positive.
"We're rolling. We're a go," Nystrom said. "No county money has gone into this. We're volunteering for long-term maintenance of the park. We're paying the liability insurance. The whole point of the project is for families to be able to go outside on their bikes in a contained area."
While MORE raised the funds, Howard County set aside the land, and the International Mountain Biking Association provided builders and designers for the trails. The four lines and the pump track will offer riding opportunities for a wide range of mountain bikers.
Jenny DeArmey, the park operations superintendent for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, said the county is looking into adding more parking spaces at the park. She said the county is also looking to install speed bumps to slow down traffic.
"The county is very supportive of the project," DeArmey said. "We covered all of our bases."
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