$215,000 request for children's park at Robert E. Lee Park faces hearing March 10

A $215,000 request to help build a 1-acre playground at Robert E. Lee Park — with an outdoor theater, climbing and swinging equipment and activity stations — is scheduled to be heard March 10 in Annapolis as part of the state's review of bond bill requests.

But even if Maryland's current fiscal crisis means the bill doesn't pass this year, advocates of Robert E. Lee say the goal of creating Acorn Hill Natural Play Area already has deep roots.

"We all hope the bond bill will pass this session, although we do appreciate that sometimes this take more than a few attempts," said Peter Maloney, president of the Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council. "We will continue next year if necessary, and in subsequent years as well if needed."

Plans for Acorn Hill emerged from the council over the past year, as volunteers worked with the Baltimore landscape architectural firm Hord/Coplan/Macht to design a specific area of the 450-acre park to focus on children's activities.

The park, slated for a peninsula overlooking Lake Roland, would include play stations, trails and structures for climbing, swinging and balancing — all with a goal of helping children develop physical skills and an appreciation for natural materials.

Maloney said that since the county took over operation of Robert E. Lee from Baltimore City and installed the 1-acre Paw Point off-leash dog park, it has emerged as, "a destination for dog owners, runners, walkers and those wanting to enjoy the outdoors."

"But we don't have anything yet that serves as a destination for family with young children," he said. "We hope that Acorn Hill will provide just that kind of asset, making the park a place everyone in the family might enjoy — young and old."

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced the Senate version of the bond bill (SB 480) in Annapolis, while his 11th District colleague, Del. Dana Stein, is the lead sponsor of the House version (HB 844). Other sponsors in the House include delegates Jon Cardin and Dan Morhaim, also of the 11th District; and Del. Steve Lafferty, of the 42nd District.

The bills for Acorn Hill will be heard in Annapolis on March 10, at 10 a.m. in the Senate and 1 p.m. in the House.

Along with Acorn Hill, other requests coming out of Baltimore County include a request for $200,000 to provide security cameras at several county high school turf fields, $20,000 being requested to start planning for a new volunteer fire department building in Lansdowne, $500,000 for expansion of the Catonsville Y and $300,000 as a grant to create a William Donald Schaefer Memorial Garden at the Charlestown Community in Catonsville.

Still, despite the competition for bond funds, Maloney said the council remains "enthusiastic and optimistic ... and very grateful to Sen. Zirkin and Del. Stein."

If the bill does pass, the money would go through the county Department of Recreation and Parks. Maloney said Acorn Hill would be about a year in the making, allowing the county time to formally review the concept plan, approve materials and then move forward with construction.

That concept plan is on the council's website — relpnc.org — and details sections of the park that would be named for historical features, such as "Bellona Factory," where children can build things with natural materials; "Hollins Station," with a train structure for climbing; and "Reservoir Theater," an outdoor amphitheater for rangers' talks and theater productions.

In addition, there would be picnic and quiet areas, a bird sanctuary and spaces for art projects.

The next meeting of Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council, will be March 21, 6:30 p.m., in hearing room 1 at the Jefferson Building, 105 Chesapeake Ave., Towson. The meetings are open to all.

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