Facelift for Friendship Park ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


For years, Friendship Park has attracted activities that were a mite too friendly. The park, on a secluded stretch of Dorsey Road near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, gained a reputation beyond Anne Arundel County's borders as a haunt for overt homosexual and drug activity. Police made numerous arrests there over the years. A TV news crew once even stumbled on some illegal recreating at the park, and, as they say in the business, had film at 11.

County officials were at a loss as to how to rid the park of its ill repute until they realized that the problem seemed to diminish several weeks a year when a farmer would bring a traveling petting zoo there for children. More public activity made the spot less attractive for illegal private activity.

So the county Department of Recreation and Parks is dotting i's and crossing t's with a private firm to develop a miniature golf course, a driving range, picnic areas and batting cages. The company will charge visitors to use the sports facilities, but not the picnic area and pond. The county will receive $50,000 or 5 percent of the gross receipts for leasing the park, which the county already leases from the state. The county also would assume the risk that if the state needs the land during the 20-year lease with the private operator, Anne Arundel must reimburse the contractor's $750,000 cost for the facilities, less depreciation. The county believes those chances are slim.

It's a complex deal; it took Arundel officials the better part of a year just to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that no one could drive a golf ball far enough from the proposed range to disable a descending airplane. (The ball would have to travel 230 yards in the air and reach a height of 11 stories.) This is probably the most imaginative public-private arrangement the county's Recreation and Parks people have devised since they brought in a nationally known architect several years back to lead a Pasadena community in erecting its own wooden playground, Amish-barn-raising style, in a single weekend.

The department should be commended for a creative plan that will bring the county revenue, enhance a wretched park and, because the contractor will have its own security, relieve the burden on local police.

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