County budget shields sites for recreation; Funds would maintain, improve various locations


The new budget year won't herald broad changes to Howard County government's recreation programs, but a few new twists will be evident.

A western Howard site for horseback riding instruction, a new place near Savage to learn more about the environment and three more after-school care programs for middle school children -- at Patuxent Valley, Bonnie Branch and Glenwood Middle -- will premiere, starting this summer.

Also, construction on a permanent roller hockey rink is scheduled to begin next month at Alpha Ridge Park on Frederick Road and should be finished by fall, said Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

This summer, as in years past, 15,000 Howard children will register for six-week daytime programs supervised by 300 part-time recreation workers.

In addition, the county plans to do more to secure and preserve the 38 historical sites identified on its land, Arthur said.

"We have to stop them from deteriorating as much as possible," Arthur said. He plans to put a canvas cover over the historic 1823 house on Blandair farm in Columbia while a court fight continues over ownership of the property. The county hopes to establish a park there some day.

With a new position in the budget for someone to coordinate deer management countywide and three other new jobs authorized to help manage programs, Arthur says the public should see good service for the taxes and the fees they pay for recreation programs.

"We're going to try to come up with a deer management plan for each regional park," he said, adding that next month the county will use an airplane and infrared technology for the annual attempt to measure the size of Howard's herd.

Just more than half the annual $17 million budget comes from tax revenue, with the rest coming from fees and property rentals -- a huge change from a decade ago, when 90 percent of the department's money came from taxes.

A new neighborhood park called Holiday Hills, in the southwest quadrant at U.S. 29 and Route 32, is to open soon with basketball courts and playground equipment, Arthur said.

In addition, work is to begin in the fiscal year starting July 1 on two new parks -- Meadowbrook Park along U.S. 29 in Ellicott City and Western Regional Park in Glenwood. Howard County has developed 12 percent of the 8,000 acres of publicly owned parkland, Arthur said.

The county's new horse-riding instructional camp -- its second -- will be offered at Maple Spring Farm Riding Center, on Burntwood Road in Glenelg. Riding camps also are offered at the 100-acre Patapsco Horse Center in Catonsville in Baltimore County. Each summer program will have 30 slots.

Last fall, the county bought 16 acres on Vollmerhausen Road at the north end of Savage Park and will hold environmental education classes in one of the two homes on the property. The other will be occupied by a caretaker. "We're hoping we can start this summer," Arthur said.

Willa Brooks, chairwoman of the county's Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, said she would like to see more nature centers and less local opposition to new facilities in developing county parks. With the county's fast-growing population "they can't go fast enough" in developing new play spaces, she said.

"The people who want the parks don't show up [at public hearings]," she said.

But "once parks are built, people fill them up." Lights for example, an unpopular item proposed for several parks, are known to reduce crime -- not attract criminals.

Meanwhile, as the fight rages over whether the county should build a public golf course at West Friendship, county golf instruction programs are booming, Arthur said.

"We're just about maxed out. Just about every one of our golf camps fill," he said. The county also uses a private driving range on U.S. 29 as well as other, full-fledged golf courses such as Waverly Woods and the county's own course, Timbers of Troy.

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