Some residents upset with cricket field project at Schooley Mill Park

Howard County broke ground Nov. 2 for renovations at Schooley Mill to build the county's only regulation size cricket field expected to be finished early next year in time for the Howard County cricket league's 2013 season.

Horses can be seen trotting through Schooley Mill Park on a daily basis, but some local residents are afraid the park is about to lose its "quiet" and "sleepy" atmosphere with the construction of a regulation-size cricket venue.

"This was sold as a multi-use field, but for all practical purposes cricket gets priority," said Highland resident Tracey Hoffman on Nov. 30, noting a cricket schedule in the minutes of a June Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks advisory board meeting.

Howard County broke ground Nov. 2 for renovations at Schooley Mill to build the county's only regulation-size cricket field. It is expected to be finished early next year in time for the Howard County Cricket League's 2013 season.

The league had 13 teams in 2012, but could have as many as 35 teams in 2013, according to John Byrd, Director of Howard County Recreation and Parks.

Byrd said Tuesday, Dec. 4, the county believed it was important to provide for "this growing recreation need," and that fields still will be available for field hockey, football and soccer.

But Hoffman is concerned that the park will primarily be used for cricket.

A portion of the June minutes, which include statements from cricket players, state that the cricket season will run from April through October with the fields booked every Saturday and Sunday during those months.

Teams also are expected to practice during the week on "a few afternoons or evenings," according to the minutes.

"I can only imagine the type of traffic this park will see," Clarksville resident Erica Coler said.

Byrd said the addition of a cricket field will not change the tone of the park.

"I don't think we're actually increasing the use or the scope of that use at the park," he said.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he has heard and respects the concerns from residents, but with a growing, diverse population in the county that enjoys playing cricket, the county should offer that opportunity.

"It's new to people, but I ask that they give it a chance," he said.

Residents like Coler are not only upset at what they describe as a "complete transformation" of the park, but are frustrated that they were not included in the decision-making process.

Highland resident Karen Groner said she had been in discussions with park officials about using Schooley Mill's soccer fields as a Dressage or polocrosse field for the county's pony club since the spring of 2011.

But she believes those who use the park for equestrian activities or to just walk their dog never had a fair opportunity to weigh in on the project.

"I feel like they didn't give us that chance. That's why I'm really frustrated," she said. "At the very least, they should have put a notice at the park. Incumbent users deserved a chance to have a say."

Byrd said the county has not posted notices at parks across the county in advance of a major renovation project like that at Schooley Mill in accordance with county policy.

But moving forward, Byrd said the county will post notices of park projects within the park.

Although Schooley Mill will not have expanded equestrian uses, Byrd said the county is considering adding equestrian facilities at a projected park along Murphy Road in Fulton.

The property is currently vacant, and planning for the park is expected to begin in 2013, he said.

But Groner said building equestrian facilities elsewhere in the county wouldn't make sense financially.

"They have 75 percent of the infrastructure in place," she said in reference to Schooley Mill.

Improvements to the Schooley Mill fields and the addition of a cricket pitch will cost about $450,000, according to Byrd.

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