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Powhatan Park opens in Gwynn Oak, providing a community green space

The Powhatan Farms community in Gwynn Oak worked for more than a decade to reclaim a dead-end lot that had become a wild thicket of dead trees, vines and tall grass. On Saturday, Barnett and other residents held a dedication ceremony for the new park. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun video)

The Powhatan Farms community in Gwynn Oak worked for more than a decade to reclaim a dead-end lot that had become a wild thicket of dead trees, vines and tall grass.

But before they could transform the space into a small community park, they had one major obstacle — a large abandoned semi truck.

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“You want to talk about a job?” said Aaron Barnett, president of the Powhatan Farms Improvement Association. He pointed where the abandoned truck had sat unclaimed, while the community association fought for two years just to have it removed and worked since 2007 to acquire the land.

On Saturday, Barnett and other residents and members of NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, a land trust that advocates for more green space, held a dedication ceremony for the new park.

The once rugged parcel that separated residents along Norvo, Redman and Robin Hill roads from Powhatan Elementary School, is now clear of high grass and other debris. A new sandy walking trail provides a safer path to the school, its playground and ball fields from the community, and adds to a 1-mile loop through the neighborhood, which many seniors use for walks, Barnett said.

At the center of the park, native meadow grasses and wild flowers were planted as a haven for butterflies, replacing a 20-foot dead tree.

“It was a rats’ nest,” said Barbara L. Hopkins, NeighborSpaces’ executive director, of the land before the work.

Much of Baltimore County’s early development occurred after World War II but before the county had adopted requirements for open space in the 1980s, she said.

Development in the county is largely concentrated in the south, which is more densely populated, and where NeighborSpace members say there is a greater need to preserve undeveloped land.

In addition to providing an outdoor space for the community, areas like the new park serve to remediate storm water runoff, allowing it to restore the groundwater supply and prevent flooding.

“We have to have buffer zones. We just have to look at Ellicott City,” said Sen. Jim Brochin, who spoke to residents at the event.

Ellicott City suffered devastating, deadly floods last month and in 2016. Experts say heavy development has worsened the flooding there, contributing to more stormwater runoff during heavy storms. To remedy the issue, Howard County officials could be forced to spend millions to redirect the water away from downtown or build stormwater management projects.

NeighborSpace has purchased about 90 acres of land across the county for parks and trails, including the 2-acre Ridgely Manor Park in a community in Towson. The site was purchased after Hess Corp. settled a lawsuit in 2012 with residents who claimed a leaky underground gasoline storage tank at the Hess station in the 1600 block of East Joppa Road contaminated their properties.

At the Gwynn Oak site, the community association applied to NeighborSpace for assistance acquiring the land from a private owner, whose home was on a neighboring lot. The nonprofit helped secure grants from Baltimore Gas and Electric and Home Depot to clear the land. The association and NeighborSpace then lobbied County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to pursue a state bond bill for $150,000 to pay to buy the land.

Students from Morgan State University’s landscape architecture program met with community members to develop a design, and they even helped clear the land.

Barnett said he hopes the new park will better connect neighborhood residents. He plans to host community association meetings, picnics and flea markets at the park

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“It’s like a dream came true,” he said.

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