Rangers at Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace closed the park's buildings last week, the final move in the park shutdown to the public for the next five months, said a spokesman for the Maryland Forest Park and Wildlife Service.
Susquehanna is one of 18 state parks that are being completely or partially closed as a result of the state's cost-cutting and a state hiring freeze that began in August, said Steven Sholl, associate director for field operations with the state Forest Park and Wildlife Service, a division of the Department ofNatural Resources.
The hiring freeze has meant that personnel at Susquehanna have had to be reassigned to fill in gaps elsewhere, he said.
The move also is part of a statewide cost-cutting effort designed to reduce a projected end-of-year state budget deficit of $400 million, he said. Closing Susquehanna's picnic and campground areas and temporarily reassigning personnel will save the state about $60,000, said Sholl.
Deputy DeWayne Curry said the Harford County Sheriff's Department has increased its patrols in the area as a result of the reassignment of park rangers.
"We've only seen a slight increase in the calls, but we expect a
big increase in the spring as more people begin to use the park," Curry said. "And they've already requested deputies to help out with special functions at the park, like races for runners."
Members of Harford County's legislative delegation say they are confused by the closure and conflicting reports about which programs at thepark will be affected.
"One day after they told me that Steppingstone Museum wouldn't be touched, I had a call telling me the power had been cut off," said Delegate Rosemary Hatem Bonsack, D-District 34.
Bonsack, chairwoman of the county's seven-member delegation to the General Assembly, Delegate David R. Craig, R-District 34, Delegate Donald C. Fry, D-District 35A, and state Sen. William H. Amoss, D-District 35, say they've been trying to reach state administrators to get information for two weeks.
"First (the Department of Natural Resources) says Steppingstone won't be affected, then whammo," she repeated, adding that the electricity was restored. "I've heard parts of it will still be open to the public. And we've asked about the numberof rangers at the park. But every time we call we get a different answer."
Bonsack said that in frustration she asked DNR administrators for answers in writing, but as of Thursday she had not received a response to that request.
Sholl said he was unaware of the delegation's difficulty in obtaining information and said he had not heard anything about the power problem at Steppingstone.
"The developed areas such as the campground and picnic area are closed. As for the rest of the park, we're not going to encourage use, but we're not going toarrest people either," Sholl said. "We fully anticipate being able to reopen the park July 1, when the new budget year starts."
A new boating area in the park along Stafford Road will be opened this spring as scheduled, Sholl said. The department will assign patrols to the area on weekends and holidays beginning in March.
He said the park has been closed since Jan. 1, but the last few buildings were not closed up until Thursday.
"Historically a lot of campgrounds are closed in winter," said Sholl. "Our busy season is Memorial Day through Labor Day. June and July are our peak months, just like any resort.And we should be open again by July."