Loch Raven mountain bikers welcome council resolution, but compromise on trails remains elusive

The mountain biking community turned out in force at the Baltimore County Council's work session Tuesday to thank council members for a resolution that encourages compromise on use of the unsanctioned Loch Raven Reservoir trail network.

But despite support for the measure — which is sponsored by all seven council members and is expected to pass Monday — the issue is far from resolved.

"I'd say it's farther along than it ever was," said Dave Ferraro, president of Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), a mountain biking advocacy group.

But he added, "I wouldn't say it's close, because my constituency — trail users — have been using trails out there for 30 years. "There's this legacy network that's basically being shut down.

"What we're trying to find is where the happy medium is. Is it close? I'd say it's starting to get there, but we're not there yet."

Ferarro said the highly publicized tug-of-war between State Sen. Jim Brochin of Towson and city officials, which included a muddy October hike of the trail network, gave the issue traction and brought MORE back to the table with the Baltimore City, which owns and operates the reservoir.

Having just taken over as MORE president in January, Amato has had a few conversations with city officials, including Department of Public Works spokeswoman Celeste Amato.

Amato said Ferraro is "bringing a new attitude to the discussion that's really helpful."

"He seems to be very willing to understand that this is a very special place that has a lot of restrictions, and we need to work together to live between those restrictions," Amato said. "There's no getting around the fact that this is a drinking water reservoir, and we're committed to protecting it."

Different paths to change

Because the city-owned reservoir is located in Baltimore County, the city is charged with enforcing the county's environmental code, which places a 100-foot buffer around the water.

That ordinance has always been in place, but city watershed rangers recently drew the ire of the mountain biking community for ticketing riders on the unsanctioned trail network at the reservoir.

Ferraro said he understood that through its resolution, the council's intention is to "voice … support for an expansion of the trail system."

"We're thrilled that they did it," he said. "It's been great for us, and it certainly legitimizes what we want to do out there."

But ultimately, Brochin believes a change to the county's buffer-zone ordinance would be the most effective course of action by the council.

The state senator, a Democrat who represents the 42nd District, said a non-binding resolution "is not going to get us anywhere," and that city officials want something binding — such as a change to the governing ordinance.

"That's what David (Marks) and Todd Huff have to do," Brochin said. "The question is can you get four votes on that council? They're going to have to take a chance, work hard, lobby and risk losing in order to win something big.

"To say 'we're not going to do that, but we're going to pass a resolution,' that's not going to get you anywhere," Brochin said. "This is about changing public policy, and that's doable, but you have to take some risks."

Ferraro agreed that the buffer zone might be a sticking point for the city, saying its position on the ordinance is clear.

Crystal clear authority

Amato declined to comment on the county's resolution, but said even if a change were made to the ordinance, Baltimore City would still have to deliver drinking water that met state and federal standards.

"Even if the code in the county were not as stringent, we still would have to deliver water at the quality we're required to," Amato said. "I can't say what we would do if Baltimore County changed their code until we see what they might do.

"We have to deliver water no matter what," Amato said. "It would make it harder if the county changed environmental code."

Speaking through county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, the director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, Vince Gardina — who is also a former county council member who represented Towson — said he would be willing to sit down with the council to discuss changes to the 100-foot buffer zone.

Marks acknowledged Brochin's desire for a bill that changes the environmental statutes, but said he's unsure whether there's support on the council for such changes.

"There's a lot of ways of going about this, and my hope is that this resolution pushes things along," Marks said. "I'd like to see what kind of action the resolution provokes first (before exploring other options)."

Ferraro said the county has been progressive in its willingness to try to find partners to properly steward the reservoir, but the layers of jurisdiction between the city and county make the Loch Raven Reservoir something of an "odd bird."

But through the council's resolution, Ferraro hopes the city and mountain bikers can come closer and work to find a solution that works within the framework of the reservoir's main purpose.

"We're not going to fight about this," Ferraro said. "A partnership is what I'm looking for… and that's where I think we're heading."

The County Council resolution regarding the Loch Raven Reservoir is scheduled for a vote at the council's Feb. 6 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the council chambers, 400 Washington Ave., Towson.

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