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Hands off money set aside for Md.'s parks and open space [Letter]

Laws and Legislation

I would like to talk about Maryland's Program Open Space and The Sun's editorial ("Open space falls short," March 9) and Dan Rodricks' column on the subject ("Marylanders need to speak up for open space," April 1). Both represent outsiders looking in while I would like to give you my view as an insider looking out.

From 1982 until 1992, I was president of the Bel Air Parks and Recreation Committee. In the latter years, the 18 parks and recreation councils formed a Presidents Committee. I was elected its first chairperson. Monthly, we would meet with the full-time directors of Harford County's Parks and Recreation Department. We were extremely unhappy with the direction that the county and state bodies were going.

The parks and recreation presidents met one evening by themselves to see what could be changed. Two of the presidents of the councils had been pressuring the directors of parks and recreation to get enough funds to build their special request: Nick Fiori of Joppatowne and John Norvel of the Havre De Grace council. Nick wanted money to build Mariner Point Park and John wanted money to build the Promenade in Havre De Grace. Both of these projects would require an immediate infusion of over $1 million.

We came up with the idea of selecting one project at a time and putting all the money into that project. The parks councils voted overwhelmingly to support the recommendation. Those two projects were selected first and second and were completed. If we wouldn't have changed the way we financed our projects, we wouldn't have these two parks today. The directors went along with our recommendation, reluctantly. This also meant we were spending our money quickly before the state could get their hands on it.

Normally, parks and recreation presidents were elected for a two-year term. In Harford County, however, many of the presidents stayed around for many terms. The longer a person stayed around, the more they learned about policies involving wetlands and Program Open Space.

Each year, Harford County would receive about $1.2 million for all of Harford County. This was to be divided between 18 parks and recreation councils. The money was allotted in varying amounts according to the cost of the projects.

Smithsonian magazine recently named Havre De Grace one of our country's 20 best small towns. To quote the magazine: "Mornings in Havre De Grace should be spent meandering along the town's boardwalk which runs from Tyding's Park to the Concord Point Lighthouse." Joppatowne would be a different, but still a wonderful community, without the Mariner Point Park.

The state must decide: Do you want to preserve more of our land for open space, including the farms, or do you want more housing developments? There could be a happy balance today. There is a tremendous imbalance in favor of the builders and developers. Yet the state has pilfered our funds for various reasons. If the governor and state legislators want more parks, they need to stop seizing our open space funds.

Please leave that money alone! If you have to borrow the money, the state should have to replace it within three years. If not, the General Assembly should write into law that the money should not be touched.

Denny Meadowcroft, Bel Air

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