Residents are reluctant to leave this garden spot

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Travel north on Route 32 or west on Liberty Road from Baltimore into Carroll County, and you'll soon reach the growth explosion that is Eldersburg. But drive a brief two minutes farther north and you'll arrive at a place that once found is seldom left.

Merryman Heights is a small enclave of 88 homes nestled in a peaceful nook along the northwest end of the Liberty Reservoir.

Just off the beaten trail, Merryman Heights offers that vanishing commodity -- land.

The roughly 160 acres called Merryman Heights was once part of a farm owned by the Merryman family. The land was next acquired by the Nickoles family, which sold it to a developer.

In the early 1950s, the first section of Merryman Heights was laid off into lots averaging 2 to 3 acres. A 3-acre lot bordering the watershed was priced at $1,500.

The gently rolling farm land soon attracted people looking for country peace and quiet. Contracts of sale restricted purchasers to enjoying the country atmosphere without adding to it -- no fowl, cattle or hogs could occupy the land.

The area was truly country then, and the first homebuilders had to work a bit to have electricity brought to their lots. No road existed; a simple path cut through the fields indicated the way.

Housing construction in Merryman Heights began in the late 1950s with the developers retaining the right to approve the plans for each house built.

The resulting community is an interesting mix of ranchers of various sizes along with a few Colonials. Some unique houses can be found in the first section of the development.

Residents of Merryman Heights enjoy the privacy afforded the neighborhood by its location abutting the Liberty Reservoir but still have the convenience of easy travel along nearby Liberty Road.

More than a few of the families living in Merryman Heights found their way to the development by following the Liberty Road corridor into Carroll County.

Once people settle in the neighborhood of Merryman Heights, they rarely leave it.

Dee Mathias, a longtime resident of Emerald Drive, said she loves the way people in Merryman Heights are kind and helpful, yet still respectful of each other's privacy. Other neighbors echoed Mrs. Mathias' sentiments.

Mary Yox realized what a prize she has in Merryman Heights when she recently considered leaving the area. Ms. Yox investigated real estate in Towson, Cockeysville and several other Baltimore County areas before deciding that her Wendy Road home was where she wanted to stay.

"Since I feel very safe here and very comfortable in this area," she said, "I made the decision to renovate rather than move."

Her rancher has been transformed from a nondescript house to one the neighbors hardly recognize.

"I basically had the entire house redone," Ms. Yox said.

The contractor installed a new heating and air-conditioning system, roof, siding and all new windows in her 26-year-old house. A new driveway and all new shrubbery have done wonders for the property.

Then Ms. Yox went to work on the inside, taking up carpeting and restoring her hardwood floors to their original beauty.

VTC "Just about every room in the house got a new coat of paint too," she commented.

"I love the way the house looks now. I'm especially pleased with the way the new windows open up the entire house. It's almost like having a brand new home."

The natural beauty of the area surrounding Merryman Heights is also something that drew many of the residents to the neighborhood.

Joan Bankard recalls that "the beauty all around Liberty Lake" first brought her and her husband to Merryman Heights some 23 years ago.

L "We love the view with the watershed so close by," she said.

One Emerald Drive resident has spent the past 34 years improving upon the natural beauty of the reservoir.

Steward Bankert is a gardener and one of the first residents of Merryman Heights. Mr. Bankert came upon the lot where he would eventually build his home one day as he meandered through the Carroll County fields on horseback.

"It was obvious by the stakes set out that some property was about to be sold, so I asked around and learned that some lots backing to the watershed were becoming available. I jumped at the chance to buy because I always wanted property close to the lake and that would provide a nice view."

Mr. Bankert recalls that there was no road but, as more people came to inspect the available lots, a path was cleared through the land. The first residents cooperated to keep their "road" passable during the winter, and eventually the county and the residents shared the cost of a paved road.

Mr. Bankert has worked for years to enhance the beauty of his property adjoining the watershed and has quite a garden to show for his efforts. The back yard is planted with dozens of azaleas and flowering trees that create a riot of springtime color.

The yard is lined with several types of boxwood, much of it grown from cuttings given to Mr. Bankert by Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress. Enormous pine trees tower over sections of the yard, providing shade and protection for some of the more delicate plants.

The center of the garden is highlighted with beautiful flowering wisteria surrounded by several white dogwoods and further set off by a single pink dogwood tree. Stone park benches offer a place to sit and enjoy the scents.

Mr. Bankert is also proud of his 10,000 bulbs that bloom in early spring and give "a sea of color" to the back portion of the garden.

Curious and often destructive deer have prompted Mr. Bankert to protect his property by hanging hundreds of empty milk jugs from his trees and bushes during the winter months. This has helped in deterring the hungry animals.

Other Merryman Heights residents say they have learned that having a vegetable garden is almost impossible because of the deer.

"We realized that about two-thirds of what you plant will be eaten by the deer, so we have pretty much given up on a vegetable garden," Joan Bankard said.

Free to be enjoyed by people and wildlife are the miles of trails around the reservoir, almost 200 miles total. Merryman Heights residents enjoy hiking and exploring around the lake. Many of the neighborhood's children have had their first fishing experiences at the reservoir.

The reservoir and the property surrounding it are owned by Baltimore City and administered by the Environmental Services Department under the Department of Public Works.

Recreational use of the land around the reservoir is limited to hiking, hunting and fishing. The public is welcome to hike the trails year-round.

Hunting on the watershed property is restricted to bow hunting only, by licensed hunters for whichever animal is in season. No firearms are permitted.

Two boat launches are available for public use on Oakland Mills Road from March 1 to Nov. 30. Boats allowed on the reservoir include: canoes, rowboats and bass boats. The boats must be 12 to 18 feet long and may be powered by oars or electric motors only -- no gas-powered engines. No sailboats, collapsible or inflatable boats are permitted on Liberty Lake.

Environmental Services issues up to 1,800 permits for boats on Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs annually. A permit is required to launch a boat onto either lake and costs $50 per year. An application may be obtained by calling Environmental Services at 410-795-6151.

Camping and picnicking are not permitted on the watershed property.

MERRYMAN HEIGHTS

Population: About 300 (1990 Census estimate)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 35 minutes

Commuting time to downtown Washington: 70 minutes

Public schools: Freedom-District Elementary, Sykesville Middle, Liberty High

Shopping: Eldersburg Plaza, Freedom Village and several small strip centers

Nearest malls: Carrolltown Center, three miles south; Cranberry Mall in Westminster, 14 miles north

Points of interest: Liberty Reservoir

ZIP code: 21784

Average price of single-family home: two sales in 1995, $225,000 average; three sales in 1994, $191,000 average

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