Plans begin on park envisioned for years NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE


In 1976 the county budgeted money for High Ridge Park in North Laurel -- and it's been there ever since, a line item in the capital budget.

After 17 years, North Laurel residents are glad to hear that county recreation and parks officials have finally begun work on the master plan for the long-planned park to be developed on 95 acres along the Patuxent River.

But construction won't begin for another five years.

"We do have Savage Park, which is close, but we've grown so much in North Laurel that we certainly have a need for a park," said North Laurel resident Judy Haxton.

Donna Thewes, a member of the North Laurel Civic Association, says her group could use park facilities for meetings and other events.

"North Laurel is one of the bigger cities in Howard County and we don't have any facilities other than Laurel Woods Elementary School," Mrs. Thewes said.

The association's picnic for Tuesday's National Night Out Against Crime is being held at the Theweses' house because there isn't an appropriate public facility for the event in the neighborhood, Mrs. Thewes said.

County Recreation and Parks Director Jeffrey Bourne said it isn't unusual for 10 to 12 years to pass between the inception of a project and preliminary planning work.

He said that park projects usually are included in the county's capital budget at least 10 years in advance of the anticipated start date. Many projects were put on hold because of county budget cuts over the past few years, and any available money was put into parkland acquisition instead of development, he said.

"A lot of our emphasis has been on the planning and acquisition phases of the capital programs," Mr. Bourne said.

"There's no point in building projects when the money isn't available to run, staff or take care of them," he said.

Besides lack of county money to maintain new parks, the High Ridge project was additionally delayed because of problems with the topography of the site and the passage of wetlands protection laws, Mr. Bourne said.

The original plan for the park called for the development of a "high-use facility," with athletic fields and tennis courts. But the design had to be scaled back to comply with environmental protection laws.

"This park is made up of extremely steep slopes, wetlands and forested areas," Mr. Bourne said. "The park has to fit the area."

As a result of the planned design changes the park will probably offer features such as hiking trails, picnicking areas, a small ball field and a tot lot, Mr. Bourne said.

The park's $4.7 million cost includes land acquisition, engineering and design and construction. The current schedule calls for the engineering phase to begin in 1997 and for construction to begin in 1998, Mr. Bourne said.

Tom Flynn, vice president of the North Laurel Civic Association, said he hopes county parks officials can provide some activities at the High Ridge site before the official construction date.

But Mr. Flynn said that recreation opportunities are available at Savage Park and local schools.

"It would be nice if they could put in a few picnic tables and some paths," Mr. Flynn said. "In my mind I'd rather have something usable in there soon."

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