Quarry considered as site for park Rouse Co. owns lake and land near Savage


The green-tinted lake near Savage sparkles like an emerald beneath steep cliffs -- a beautiful, but treacherous, gem long guarded from the public.

Now the property's owner, the Rouse Co. of Columbia, wants to put its gem on display. The company has asked the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks to consider turning the former rock quarry into a regional park.

"It's a beautiful, natural feature," Rouse Vice President David E. Forester said of the old quarry site, which would become an extension of the nearby Savage Park. "It's a pretty site for a park."

County officials, who plan to visit the site Wednesday, say it is just one of dozens they are evaluating as possible park sites around the county. Talks between the county and the Rouse Co. are preliminary, and no specific amounts of land or cost have been discussed, officials said.

Even so, some residents who recently toured the site say the Rouse proposal would protect the area against development and increase the limited park area in southeast Howard County.

"It's not a normal quarry. It's kind of a natural wonder," said Greg Fries, a North Laurel resident. "We would like to see it classified as parkland."

But others worry that the lake area might be too dangerous for public recreation and that the Rouse Co. might be trying to pass off the liability for a dangerous property -- a charge the company denies.

"The quarry in its present condition really should not be open to the public," said North Laurel resident Michael Ratcliffe, chairman of the parks and recreation subcommittee for the North Laurel-Savage Planning Committee. "I would be hard-pressed to say whether the county should acquire it. Because of the temperature and the depth of the water, it is quite dangerous."

Concerns about the property linger 23 years after a 24-year-old Washington man drowned at the lake where teen-agers still dive off cliffs and swim, ignoring the "No Trespassing" signs.

The cliffs peak about 60 feet above the water, Mr. Forester said. Most of the lake is 100 to 150 feet deep. In some areas, the water -- which is rising as much as 5 feet a year -- is more than 300 feet deep.

The water's surface temperature can reach 70 to 72 degrees in the summer, but it remains a chilling 40 degrees beneath its surface.

For almost a quarter-century, the 230-acre lake has sat behind a wooded area off Gorman Road.

The Rouse Co. property originally was the site of a quarry leased and operated by the Cockeysville-based Arundel Corp., which began mining there in 1953. The Savage site became the company's largest quarry, generating $2 million in annual revenue.

A court order forced Arundel to stop mining there without a permit in 1972. But by then, the company had mined about 4.5 million tons of gabro or trap rock (a type of rock used for highway paving).

Arundel officials say that rain water turned the abandoned quarry into a lake. And it soon became a popular but illegal gathering place for crowds of teen-agers, who would swim, drink alcohol or smoke marijuana.

To stop the wild parties, Rouse Co. officials erected a mile-long fence around the quarry, set up security patrols and posted the "No Trespassing" signs.

But the beauty of the lake still lures trespassers, creating liability problems for the Rouse Co.

So far this year, Howard County police have responded to five trespassing calls, down from 20 last year, said Sgt. Steve Keller. The Rouse Co. said it usually prosecutes 100 to 150 people a year for trespassing on the property.

Mr. Forester said that the Rouse Co. isn't trying to get rid of the property because of the potential liability.

If the county isn't interested in acquiring the site, Mr. Forester said the Rouse Co. might consider turning it into a privately owned park or building a scenic office complex around the site.

"Nothing has really been determined yet," Mr. Forester said. "We really don't know what the county might want to do with it. We just think it's a potential recreation area to be evaluated."

Savage resident Bill Waff and others agree. Mr. Waff, also a member of the North Laurel-Savage Planning Committee, said the quarry is part of Savage's history and should be open for people to see.

"I would like to at least have it so people can walk past and view it," said Mr. Waff, who also is president of the Savage Community Association. "We think it would be nice as a park."

He and other Savage residents said their primary concern is that the Rouse Co. land not be developed because they said that would ruin the scenic view of the nearby Savage parkland.

Even a skeptic such as Mr. Ratcliffe says that although the water might be too dangerous for swimming, the lake could be used for boating, fishing or some other limited uses.

Recreation and parks officials, meanwhile, say they still have to evaluate the feasibility of using the Rouse Co. property.

"We're taking a look at the property," said Jeffrey Bourne, director of the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

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