John Slater, the new chairman of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Planning Committee, likes to think of the Patapsco River as a force that can unite, rather than divide, the communities that lie along its banks in Baltimore and Howard counties.
That process might have begun, as representatives from five communities -- after months of heated debate -- take a formal role in discussions over a proposed trail network that would link those towns and Patapsco Valley State Park.
Responding to criticism from residents worried that the greenway would harm the environment and bring too many tourists, the committee recently added representatives from Catonsville, Elkridge, Ellicott City, Oella and Relay/St. Denis, which would either border or be part of the project.
"Things are not black and white," said Slater, a Columbia landscape architect who likes to describe all river valley residents as part of one ecosystem. He said he and other planners "want to be good neighbors and work together to enhance the whole valley."
Few of the citizen representatives appear to oppose the greenway outright. Some support it enthusiastically. The rest -- such as Liz Fitzsimmons of Oella -- seem to support the concept but want to make sure it is executed wisely.
"I think everyone in Oella holds the river very near and dear to their heart," Fitzsimmons said. "They don't view the changes as being necessarily a bad thing, if it's managed correctly."
Ellicott City representative Richard Taylor, vice president of the Ellicott City Business Association, is one of the greenway's most vocal supporters.
"Any plan that promotes the better use of our local natural resources and unites communities along its path is a plan worth considering," he said. "It's a nice thing. I don't see all the negatives that some other communities do."
Those "other communities" include Relay and St. Denis, two small residential towns near the Avalon entrance of the state park that recently voted against the project. They have said repeatedly that they do not want their communities -- or the park -- included in the greenway.
"It's not about 'not in my back yard,' " said Doreen DeSa, one of the Relay representatives. "We don't want to see the very limited open space that exists in Baltimore County transformed into what Columbia is about, and that is building and trails everywhere. It's not environmentally sound."
Bill Bauman, the representative from Catonsville, said he thought certain communities were acting uncooperatively and felt "disappointed it doesn't seem like there's going to be more consensus on this."
"I was disappointed in the attitude that some of the groups took," he said, speaking of a recent planning meeting in Ellicott City. "It seemed like they may have concern for their particular areas, which I can certainly understand, but when they try to extend it for miles upriver or downriver I thought that was extremely disappointing."
Kevin Doyle, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, said that Elkridge has not decided whether to participate in the planning process.
"They don't really know if this is a group they want to deal with," he told greenway planners at a recent meeting. "We don't really know who you guys are."
Columbia resident David Pardoe, a board member of the national Audubon Society, has agreed to sit in on planning meetings and give advice about use of the state park.
"The biggest threat is loving it to death," he said, explaining that "the more people you have, the more traffic, the more wear and tear, bank erosion and fishermen and the more trails wear down."
At the same time, Pardoe said he thinks misinformation -- people thinking the plan is set in stone-- is inflaming the public. "I think we just need to be open, calm the emotions a little bit, and find out what's really going on," he said.
At a meeting in Ellicott City on Wednesday, planners discussed a three-page checklist of possibilities for the greenway that included an excursion train between Baltimore and Ellicott City, an Ellicott City parking garage, a visitor center and seasonal concessions in the state park.
Marsha McLaughlin, a member of the planning committee and deputy director of Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning, encouraged the community representatives to vote against anything they disagreed with.
"There wasn't a lot of shouting or name-calling," McLaughlin said. But she reserved judgment on whether greenway friends and foes will work successfully together: "It's too early to be optimistic or pessimistic," she said.
Pub Date: 2/08/99