Liberty Reservoir fire roads won’t be maintained or open to public after Baltimore decision; residents object

Several pathways in the woods near Liberty Reservoir are being decommissioned, cutting them off from the public. And a group of nearby residents is not pleased.

The nonprofit Friends of Liberty Reservoir formed after residents expressed concerns about the condition of some of the roads at the reservoir. Now, the members are upset with a decision to decommission some roads made without prior input from the community, according to Friends of Liberty Reservoir member Jorge Coppen.


Baltimore City, which owns the reservoir straddling Carroll and Baltimore counties, has decided to decommission at least seven roads in Liberty Reservoir. The public would not be permitted on these decommissioned roads.

“It’s been a while since, for many of these roads, that we’ve gotten in there to work them, and it just makes sense from an operational point of view that we focus our resources elsewhere and allow these particular roads to go back to a more natural state,” said Jeffrey Raymond, spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works.


The seven roads being decommissioned are Murray Road, Content Lane, Poole/Pouder Area, Glen Falls Road, Old Oakland Road to Wards Chapel Road, Cockeys Mill Road to Md. 140 and Ivy Mill Road. According to Raymond, these roads have not been maintained for about five to six years.

Members of the community spend time at Liberty Reservoir hiking, biking, fishing and riding horseback, including on these roads. The roads also function as fire access roads, though Raymond did not answer questions about how this might affect the response to a fire at the reservoir.

“Closing the roads at Liberty Reservoir has affected the horseback riding community because a lot of horse owners, which many of them are also members of our organization, have property around that reservoir,” said Fritzi Grow, president of Trail Riders of Today, in an email Friday. “Some of them bought their property because of the reservoir so they can go trail riding, hiking, biking, etc.”

Her group organizes trail rides at the reservoir, but this change will mean they won’t be able to, she said.


“We don’t want to put our members at risk, and we as TROT would love to help the city of Baltimore maintain these trails, do trash pickup days and assist in any way we can to have the reservoir open to the public,” Grow said.

A main concern listed on a Friends of Liberty Reservoir flyer was that the decision to decommission these roads was made without input from elected officials or citizens of Carroll County. The group hosted a community meeting Thursday evening, and about 50 people filled the meeting room — and part of the hallway outside.

The Friends of Liberty Reservoir previously reached out to the city’s public works department with its concerns and received a letter back from Clark Powells, a watershed section manager.

“In some instances, DPW will discontinue maintenance of a woods road so that trees can regenerate in the area and provide water quality benefits,” Howells said in the letter to Friends of Liberty Reservoir. “Recreation is not permitted in these areas, and any such activity constitutes a trespass. Consequently, DPW will not maintain historical landmarks or other attractions which will promote recreation in restricted areas, as the intent is to maintain the forested buffer for improved water quality.”

The letter also gave reasons for why each road would not be maintained: Murray Road is very short and did not link to any other woods road; Content Lane was not required for emergency medical services or fire control, and local residents complained each time the woods road was maintained; Poole/Pouder Area had been maintained for a logging operation that is no longer active; Glen Falls Road is very short and becomes muddy during rain, contributing to erosion; Old Oakland Road to Wards Chapel Road has private roads and bridges on both sides that prevent access for maintenance equipment; Cockeys Mill Road to Md. 140 has steep hills that contribute to erosion, preventing access for maintenance and creating safety hazards; and adequate access to Ivy Mill Road is provided by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Raymond said he doesn’t understand the impact of closing these roads to the nearby communities.

“Many of these roads, it’s been a while since we’ve maintained them anyway. So, I don’t know the significance of the impact,” he said. “I’m sure they can explain their point of view.”

Several attendees of the Thursday night meeting explained their feelings — and frustrations — with the situation.

“I want to know where we can hike and where we can’t hike, that’s all I want to know. I want a map," Sykesville resident Phyllis Shand said. "I tend to get lost and I don’t want to get arrested because I am on a trail I am not supposed to be on.”

Eldersburg resident Rebecca Washington said she lives on a property adjacent to the reservoir property.

“There were a lot of people here very angry, but I can see both sides,” she said. "They are still keeping the majority of the trails open, which is great, open to public use, and they are not closing it down.”

Washington said there were several good reasons to close the roads, including safety and maintenance concerns.

“But most importantly the water quality, because they need a buffer of trees. We have septic systems all around Liberty lake. And you need the trees and you need the trees to filter those septics before it reaches the lake," she said. "So I understand why they are trying to keep a buffer, but there hasn’t been good communication between the people ... We haven’t had any input, so there’s a lot of really irate people.”

Stephanie Brennan of Sykesville, a member of Friends of Liberty Reservoir, said the group wants to cooperate with Baltimore on the roads, in part because “people are going to go in there.”

“We did not get any answers like we wanted," she said. "We just need clear concise answers, but we do not want the answer that we’re shutting down access to the reservoir. ... There has got to be a way to have environmentally sustainable trails that Carroll County citizens can use.”

Jill Bangoura of Sykesville, another member of Friends of Liberty Reservoir, echoed the sentiment that the group wants to help maintain the roads.

“We have asked to maintain the trails ourselves, we have offered to apply for [Federal Emergency Management Agency] grants and other grants, and we’re just like hitting a brick wall,” she said.

Before the meeting, Coppen said the group hopes to be involved in work to support the reservoir and its trails.

When asked whether Baltimore would be willing to accept help from Friends of Liberty Reservoir to keep the roads open, Raymond said in an email Friday, “The Baltimore City Department of Public Works is willing to discuss with the Friends group the safe, responsible operation of the Reservoir property.”

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