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Carroll County's rapid population growth of the 1980's and 1990's has slowed, with the present population hovering around 172,000 people. But the county's Department of Recreation and Parks is still trying to catch up with the demand created by that growth.

The efforts to meet the growing demand were seriously curtailed during the 2008 recession. The parks department's budget shrank and projects had to be slowed or put on hold. Two major casualties of the recession's belt-tightening were Krimgold Park and Leister Park.

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However, with this fiscal year's budget up to $2.4 million, work on these projects is again picking up. Krimgold, a 135-acre property located in Woodbine south of Md. 26, opened in December.

It presently features walking trails, a pavilion and four fishing ponds, which are always in use. County recreation and parks director Jeff Degitz notes with satisfaction the ponds are being fished at all times of the day.

Three athletic fields were opened there this spring, and six more are planned.

There are also plans for a playground there this fall. Local resident Jami Henley has had a big hand in the fund-raising drive for this playground facility.

The 100-acre Leister Park, located on Black Rock Road in Hampstead, opened in spring of 2014. Presently it has a pavilion, picnic area, walking trail, and one general purpose athletic field.

There are plans for a disk golf course to open later this year with the help of volunteers.

Leister's Phase 2 will include a ball diamond, road improvements and additional parking. However there is no funding for this phase in the county's five-year parks plan, Degitz said.

If you've ridden past the Westminster Community Pond lately, you'll notice that the entire site has changed. The pond is twice as big as before. And it is has been completely surrounded by a walking trail.

Now, the county plans to link the pond to the surrounding area to make it accessible to foot traffic from nearby development, Degitz said. One walking trail, to be finished later this year, will connect to residential neighborhoods in the north. Another trail will connect the pond to the Carroll County Commerce Center near Md. 97 and 140. That trail should be finished this summer, Degitz said.

The Bear Branch Nature Center will have a new playground, which opens this fall.

"A lot of kids come there as part of school field trips. A playground will help them burn off steam sometimes," Degitz said.

Another project is a bicycle and walking-only right-of-way, which will link two presently dead-end segments of MacBeth Way in Eldersburg. Degitz said this connection, roughly 1,000 feet in length, is set to open this fall.

The connection will create a continuous link from residential communities to the Carroll County Public Library Eldersburg branch, and shopping facilities near Liberty Road.

"People will no longer have to make a two-mile drive around heavily congested Route 32 and Route 26 to get to the library and shopping," Degitz said.

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Those walking or biking to the library and shopping will have to travel about one-half mile when the link is completed.

There is a great deal of discussion and concern about the impact of the Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High School closings on athletic field and gymnasium facilities associated with those schools. Long-term plans for these athletic facilities have not been finalized.

Degitz said the County Commission appears favorable toward preserving them, but it has not presented specifics at this point.

Local residents anxious to see these schools' athletic facilities preserved and available for use have at least some good news.

Degitz said the athletic fields and ball diamonds at all three will be available into the fall. And while the County Commission has not released specific plans yet, there is hope the schools' gymnasiums will also remain available starting this autumn.

A positive development in that direction is the County Commission's budgeting of $500,000 to cover maintenance and utilities for the North Carroll and Charles Carroll buildings. Degitz said maintaining athletic facilities at Charles Carroll and New Windsor are considered particularly critical because of the lack of other schools in those communities.

Expanding the county's park and athletic facilities and hanging on to existing ones get a great deal of public attention. Less publicized but vital in its own right is maintaining what's there now. Keeping the county's existing park inventory in good condition becomes ever more important (and expensive) as that inventory grows and ages.

"We have to take care of the [existing] parks and our aging infrastructure," Degitz said. "This includes things like new roofs on pavilions, paving for parking areas and maintaining the walking trails."

Two priority pavilion projects were programmed for the Hashawha Environmental Center and Deer Park, Degitz said. Hashawha's was replaced earlier this year. Degitz said the Deer Park structure was declared unsafe and torn down. A new one will be erected later this year, Degitz said.

The Commission has increased the parks maintenance budget dramatically for this fiscal year, which began July 1. It went up by $200,000 to a total of $309,600 for FY 2017.

Over the next five years, the maintenance will grow from $163,400 in FY 2018 to $179,000 in FY 2022.

"These additional dollars should go a long way toward keeping up with maintenance in the future," Degitz said.

410-857-7896

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