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Dayhoff: Westminster has long history of meeting citizen demands for green space, parks and recreation | COMMENTARY

Whether you are running, biking, or hiking, the Wakefield Valley Community Trail is a great place to enjoy fall in Carroll County. On Nov. 7, the Westminster Road Runners Club will sponsor the annual Terry Burk-Sam Case 5K on the Wakefield Valley Trail — better known to older local runners as the Terry Burk Trail.

I have always preferred running on trails and linear parks as opposed to running along the roads. I feel nervous running anywhere with vehicles weighing several tons whizzing and growling by me at 50 mph. In recent years, it only takes a moment of distraction provided by a cell phone or texting behind the wheel and you are flirting with disaster.

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the tragic death of Terry Burk, a popular runner and the second generation owner of a family candy store, the Treat Shop, in Westminster which was located across the street from the Carroll movie theater for many years.

On Aug. 10, 1995, Burk and fellow jogger David W. Herlocker, were struck by a car while jogging with several Westminster Road Runner Club friends on Md. 97 at Kalten Road. Burk was killed. He was only 48 years old. According to media reports, “Police said the 19-year-old man who was driving the car apparently fell asleep while coming home from work.”

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The other namesake of the annual Wakefield Valley running event, the late Sam Case, “served McDaniel College as professor, coach, and provost and his memory is near and dear to the hearts of many faculty and staff colleagues” said fellow road runner, McDaniel professor Skip Fennell in an email interview in 2015.

The fall harvest season, the leaves changing colors, and running and hiking have always been an end of summer writing favorite of mine, and portions of this discussion have been published before.

Debate and discussion over Westminster’s role in providing citizens with parks and recreation opportunities has seen its ebbs and flows since the 1870s. About 100 years ago, on Apr. 7, 1922, the Democratic Advocate lamented about “Westminster and the Recreation Problem” in an editorial.

Fast forward to today and the area to the southwest of Westminster, Wakefield Valley, has been in the news for a number of reasons involving recreation and green space. The pace began to quicken for a countywide greenways-linear park hiking, biking and running trail system in 1992. Planning began for the Wakefield trail in 1994, a year before Burk was killed. The trail was dedicated and developed, in part, as a legacy to Burk.

Meanwhile, according to information from the Westminster Recreation and Parks website, the trail features a 2.1-plus mile paved walking trail from Long Valley Road to West Main Street. This scenic trail meanders through the pristine Carroll County countryside offering the chance to view abundant wildlife and scenic overlooks right inside the city. There is parking at Tahoma Farm Boulder Park. The parking lot has 22 spots and two handicap spots.

On Sept. 22, 2015 the Westminster Community Pond reopened with a one-half mile walking loop around the pond. Many in the running-hiking greenways community see it a critical link in a Westminster walking “beltway.”

On Oct. 19, 2015 the city began advertisements for contractors to bid on the construction of the much anticipated extension of the Wakefield Valley Trail from Uniontown Rd. north to West Main St. In an email interview in 2015, Abby Gruber, the director of recreation and parks for Westminster, said, “This takes us one step closer to creating a safe pedestrian route around the city that links multiple parks together. Trails make communities more livable…”

On July 25, 2015, it was reported in the City of Westminster newsletter that walking and running trails have been opened by the city on the old Wakefield Valley Golf Course, adjacent to the Wakefield Valley Trail. It is the hope of many that the Wakefield Valley linear park will be linked with the old golf course property and remain a legacy open space in Westminster as the community continues to grow.

The golf course was opened in the 1970s. After the golf course closed due to financial difficulties in 2013, the facilities quickly fell into disrepair. In a Sun article on June 5, 2014, then-Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz said, “This is the largest parcel of open green space remaining in the city of Westminster, and we are delighted that we will be able to preserve it and plan its future…”

In June of 2014, it was announced that a developer had purchased the 160 acre Wakefield Valley Golf Course. He donated much of the property, the historic Durbin House, the clubhouse, and conference facility to the city of Westminster.

The Burk-Case 5K begins at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7. This will be the first Westminster Road Runners Club non-virtual race in more than 6 months. Social distancing and masks are required (when not running.) This race does require an online only sign-up and is limited to only 125 participants or will close on Nov. 3, whichever comes first. For much more information go to the Westminster Road Runners' website at www.wrrclub.com. To sign up online for the race go to runsignup.com/Race/MD/Westminster/TerryBurkSamCase5K.

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