Since the community of Rose Haven took charge of the small, overgrown patch of land along Herring Bay several years ago, longtime resident Bentley Tyler has dutifully mowed the grass -- weekly from spring to fall -- and worked to turn it into a community park.
The 74-year-old retired television technician hasn't minded riding five hours on his lawn mower under the glaring sun or building another picnic table after the first was destroyed by vandals. He has plans for a second table, a swing set and a bench for the 1.7-acre lot, off Route 261 near Anne Arundel County's southern tip.
"This is a way I can contribute to the community and the people who come through here," said Tyler, sitting atop his red lawn mower on a break during the last trim for the year. "It's one of the few places people can stop and see the bay, so I want to make it nice."
The park, a 930-foot stretch of grass and wild plants along the waterfront, may not look like much. But to Tyler and other residents of Rose Haven, a community of about 200 families, it is a symbol of their struggle to stunt development and preserve their bayside flavor. The county owns it, but the residents are its keeper.
Said Caroline Leverone, Rose Haven Community Association president, "It's small, but it's the pride of our community."
Five years ago, under the threat of a plan to build three houses on the land by its owner, E. Steuart Chaney, about a dozen residents banded together to form the Citizens Action Committee. Tyler said the residents sent letters to the county, and a group went to Annapolis to fight Chaney's proposal.
"We did work hard," Tyler said. "We put a lot of time in it."
They succeeded, and persuaded Chaney, owner of neighboring Herrington Harbour Marinas, to sell the lot to the county.
John Morris, a spokesman for the county's land-use and environment office, said the county purchased the land in March 1996 for $300,000, with money from part of a Program Open Space grant from the state Department of Natural Resources.
The lot, the last 2 acres of open waterfront in Rose Haven, was covered with underbrush, trash and overgrown grass, Tyler recalled. "It looked like a jungle," he said.
'A unified effort'
Chaney, who had owned the lot since 1978, worked with residents to fix up the park. He contracted with Chesapeake Bay Construction at a below-market fee to come in with a crane to align the large rocks as a barrier to protect the shoreline from erosion.
"It quickly became a unified effort," Chaney said.
Since then, Chaney said, he has had an improved relationship with Rose Haven residents. "It's difficult when you own a valuable piece of land," Chaney said. "But, in retrospect, I'm glad it's open space and a park."
So is Tyler.
Years bring changes
A lifelong resident of South County, he remembers when the park was a marsh and oyster bed where trumpeter swans and soft shell crabs made their home.
From the porch of the ranch-style house he built 24 years ago, Tyler has watched the park space, which is in plain view, and the community change. The area's marshland was filled in by its owner, more houses were built in the neighborhood and summer cottages were "winterized" to make them year-round homes, he said.
"I like progress, if it's the proper kind," said Tyler, who lives with his wife, Theresa, to whom he has been married 56 years, on Albany Avenue.
But, with the house's aging water and sewerage system, Tyler said he's tired of having to call whenever a pipe bursts and of living with low water pressure. He put his house up for sale in June.
"It's just getting to be too much," Tyler said, adding that he would like to move to southern Delaware, closer to family.
Leverone said Tyler's departure will be a significant loss. Tyler, she said, has remained active in the community over the years and has always been willing to mow the grass and build accessories for the park at cost.
"He has been very reliable," Leverone said. "We're going to miss him."
The community president said she is not sure who will take over. "We'll have to send out a signal for help," she said, jokingly.
Before he leaves Rose Haven, Tyler said, he would like to see his dreams for the park become a reality. He would like to see the lot flourish with wildlife, as it once did, and he would like to see a park where people can sit.
Returning to former glory
During the past two springs, Steve Ailstock, director of the environment center at Anne Arundel County Community College, has taken students from the college and Southern High School to the park to do plantings based on a community-approved design.
In the first stage, Ailstock said, they applied for permits, did site preparation and planted sea grass. Last spring, they put in more plantings to create a marsh.
"Most park lands are a work in progress," Ailstock said. "But, with this one, the bulk of the work is done."
Tyler said that without the students' efforts, the park wouldn't be as far along as it is now. "A lot of people have done work on this project," he said. "We're just trying to preserve a little wildlife down here."