Greenway proposal rejected; Environmentalists say project would harm state park; Governor asked to act; Supporters say plan would protect area's natural resources


A statewide coalition of environmental groups has asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening to halt future funding for a proposed network of nature trails and commercial concessions in the Patapsco River Valley, warning it would hurt the river and Patapsco Valley State Park.

The project -- called the Patapsco Heritage Greenway -- is "destructive to the Patapsco River and its watershed," according to a letter given to the governor this week by the Maryland Conservation Council.

"Despite the fact that the Patapsco Valley State Park is currently over utilized, the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee, a private group organized by Oella developer Charles Wagandt, has targeted the park as the centerpiece of an extensive economic and tourism development plan," the letter said.

The proposal, intended to encourage tourism by linking the area's historical, cultural and natural resources, is "inappropriate for state park land," said Mildred F. Kriemelmeyer, council president.

She and the coalition particularly object to a proposed and funded $1 million paved trail on the Baltimore County side of the river. "Do you really want to add, right at the bank of the river, more impervious surfaces to degrade that poor river?" she asked.

Wagandt, chairman of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee, rejected allegations yesterday that the project would hurt the environment.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. The greenway would "build a bigger constituency for the environmentalists and help them in protecting the natural resources," he said. "We think this is a highly desirable project."

Don Vandrey, a spokesman for Glendening, said yesterday that the governor's office had received a copy of the letter, but that the governor had no response yet.

The Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee, a private group made up of residents and county and state officials, was formed with the stated purpose of protecting the valley.

In late 1997, the committee hired a consulting team, Rhodeside & Harwell Inc. of Alexandria, Va., to develop a proposal for the greenway. It paid $135,000 to the consultants -- $80,000 from the state, the rest from Baltimore and Howard counties and from private individuals.

The consulting firm's preliminary plans call for paved bicycle trails, bridges, train stations, visitor centers, additional parking lots, concessions, upscale accommodations and an aggressive marketing effort to attract tourists.

Planners lobbied for a mile-long, 10-foot-wide paved trail on the Baltimore County side of the river from the Swinging Bridge toward Simkins Mill. The state has set aside more than $1 million for that trail.

The committee and the consultants should complete a proposal this year, planners have said.

If the plan is approved by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, a state agency, the greenway would qualify for grants, tax credits and low-interest loans for tourism-related activities, said Teresa Moore, executive director of the Maryland Greenways Commission.

But some environmentalists are concerned that the plans have been rapidly moving forward without any environmental studies and with little public participation.

The greenway committee held its first public meeting Oct. 5 at the Trolley Stop in Oella, after the consulting firm had drawn up its preliminary plans. About 100 residents voiced their concerns about tourists crowding the valley, polluting the stream and destroying wildlife habitats.

The Maryland Conservation Council -- which includes the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Chesapeake Bay Foundation -- came out in opposition to the project two weeks ago, said Kriemelmeyer.

The letter she delivered to Glendening on Monday voices "strong opposition" to the Patapsco Heritage Greenway and alerts Glendening to "the rapidly spreading controversy over the state allowing our publicly-owned state park lands to be used for private commercial interests."

It asks that he "immediately withdraw the funds currently committed for the paved bicycle trail through the Patapsco River valley and stop any future funding."

Bob DeGroot, president of a Rockville-based conservation group that is not a member of the coalition, said yesterday the "Patapsco Heritage Greenway" is a misleading title. He defined a greenway as "a corridor for the protection of streams and wildlife" and said this plan would do the opposite.

This month, DeGroot wrote a letter to John Griffin, state secretary of natural resources, urging him to meet with his group -- Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation -- and other conservation organizations. DeGroot wrote that the paved bicycle trail would destroy fish and wildlife habitats and pollute the river.

Numerous members of his group endorsed the letter, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland Native Plant Society, Maryland Ornithological Society and Wildlife Land Trust.

"It's just a total destruction of some of the stream valleys," DeGroot said.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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