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Sherri Leimkuhler: A row over the need to mow

The Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks recently sent a letter to every resident on my street informing us it had come to their attention that “individuals have been illegally riding motorized vehicles and mowing” parts of Piney Run Park, and that the tracks from these vehicles has been traced back to our street.

The letter went on to define the terms of these violations, including the threat of a fine “not to exceed $1,000” or imprisonment “not to exceed six months.”

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Residents were also informed that the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office had been contacted and increased attention from local law enforcement would be added in hopes of ending this “behavior.”

While I agree with the county that the tracks and ruts left by motorized vehicles can damage trails and contribute to erosion, I wholeheartedly disagree with the issue — and the county’s approach — on the subject of mowing.

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Grass mowing in my little corner of the county has been a problem for some time. It seems as though, at one point, there was some dispute or uncertainty as to whether certain grassy areas were the responsibility of the county or the town to maintain. As a result, several busy intersections and thoroughfares were left to run amok, these highly visible areas becoming unkempt eyesores as the grass grew thigh high.

There is also a long stretch of grass that is routinely neglected along Obrecht Road across from and adjacent to several neighborhoods and Fairhaven Park. Until about a year ago, a local resident used his own time and equipment to mow a path into this unruly area so that people could walk, run and cycle along this path to access the park, the Linear Trail and neighborhood sidewalks.

Sadly, that kind neighbor moved and the new residents did not pick up the task, leaving this area not only unsightly, but unusable in the summer.

Given the inordinately low posted speed limit of 25 mph on Obrecht and the speed traps regularly stationed there, the county clearly recognizes this as a pedestrian and population-dense area. In fact, an officer once explained that before the limit was lowered to 25, motorists routinely operated at hazardous speeds in this particular area that — due to the neglected condition of the adjacent grass and the lack of a better option — often has walkers, runners and cyclist in the roadways and on the small, narrow shoulder. Regularly mowing this area — or, better yet, installing a sidewalk or path — is the obvious solution to making this area safer and more accessible. Ditto for the two main roads—White Rock and Raincliffe — leading to large, popular parks that, given the lack of a shoulder, sidewalk or path, are not safely accessible except by car.

Spout Hill Road, the main thoroughfare and most direct route to downtown Sykesville from the north and west, also has no safe pedestrian walkways or cycling paths.

But I digress.

The mowing the county referred to in its condescending, wrist-slapping letter is the grassy area across the top of an earthen dam that must be traversed to access one of the park’s trailheads. In the winter, this is not a problem. But in the summer, the grass is left to grow unchecked, the tall, scrubby brush blocking access to the trail.

As with the thoughtful neighbor who once mowed the section along Obrecht, apparently another kindly neighbor had decided to take matters into his own hands — and, in my opinion, stepped up to do the county’s job, free of charge — so that bicyclists, walkers, runners, hikers, bird watchers, kids and dog walkers could safely access the trail year-round.

While I admit I am not a civil engineer or environmental scientist, I find it hard to believe that mowing a two-foot wide strip of grass across the top of an earthen embankment could “lead to conditions that could compromise the dam’s integrity,” as the county’s letter insinuates.

On the contrary, according to the Technical Manual for Dam Owners on the FEMA website, it is not routine maintenance that causes damage or compromises dam safety but tree and woody vegetation penetrations of earthen dams, and rodent and other animal activity that has been demonstrated to be causes of serious structural deterioration. Furthermore, the manual goes on to explain that “grasses and shallow-rooted native vegetation are the most desirable surface covering for an earthen dam.”

That said, a layperson such as myself is led to believe that regular mowing would actually be considered healthy maintenance of such an area, one that would not only discourage woody growth, burrowing rodents and nesting animals, but would also eliminate the tall, thick weeds and grass that constitute tick habitats.

According to cchd.maryland.gov, Lyme disease — with more than 22,000 cases reported in Maryland between 2004-16 — is the most common tick-borne disease in the state. Given that Lyme disease, especially if not caught early and properly treated, can lead to arthritis and nervous system and heart problems, it seems reasonable that allowing ticks to unnecessarily thrive in an area that is intended to be accessed by the public creates a greater hazard to our citizens than a little grass mowing does to an earthen dam.

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Instead of the uninformative, threatening letter the county chose to send, the proper approach might have been to thank the residents of our street for bringing to the county’s attention that the grassy area on and around the dam is not being properly maintained, and to also express gratitude to the concerned and proactive members of our community who have taken steps to improve the situation for the safety and enjoyment of all where the county has failed to do so.

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