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Hundreds turn out for Howard County park grand opening

Most of the boys and girls scattered across the turf Saturday for the grand opening of Blandair Park weren't born at its inception.

The children, with their lacrosse sticks and football helmets, waited to try out the fields and playground as the politicians congratulated one another on the completion of the first phase of the 300-acre park that has been 14 years in the making.

The playground, 278-space parking lot and three multi-use turf fields, which can be used for soccer, lacrosse or football, are the highlights of the latest evolution of the land that was once a Colonial-era farm.

"Enjoy this — this is yours," state Sen. James Robey, a Howard County Democrat, said to the hundreds of children, parents and community members gathered for the ceremony at the park at 5750 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.

Recreation-league lacrosse players Tori Caporaletti, Caitlyn Oates, Paige Reese and Bobbie Haney, all age 12, waited on the sidelines in their yellow-and-gold uniforms for their chance to play on one of the new fields. The grand opening ceremony was followed by the kickoff of the Gary J. Arthur Memorial Lacrosse Tournament.

"It's going to be a lot of fun today," said Paige, the goalie.

"And you're going to stop every single ball," Tori said, before the girls bounded over to a sidewalk where they sprayed Caitlyn's long blond braid green in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Team mom Debbie O'Byrne of Woodbine said the park was breathtaking.

"It's a great investment in our children," she said.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he wants to set aside $4.8 million in the upcoming budget for the second of seven park development phases. The first 24-acre phase, which started in December 2010, cost $6.71 million.

Plans include children's gardens near the property's historic manor house, open meadows, pathways, an indoor facility with courts and a jogging track, a skate park, restrooms, gazebos and softball fields. Ulman said the county's plan is to finish one phase each year.

A restroom and a picnic shelter that can seat 100 people are planned for completion by the end of the year.

"This is a statement about quality of life," Ulman said. "The playground and gazebos are community gathering points where we hope people will meet their neighbors. It's just another piece of why Howard County is a great place to live."

Ulman said the park plans took so long to come to fruition because of previous recreational commitments and a legal battle among the county, state and previous property heirs.

The land was named Blandair by Theodoric Bland, who bought the property in 1845. He served under several governors as the state's chancellor.

The Howard County Terps football players, cheerleaders and coaches said they were thrilled to have a place closer to home to play.

"It's awesome," said Shameka Lucas, a head coach for the Terps cheerleaders. "We are truly, truly blessed to have this."

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