A CHUNK of Howard County government-owned acreage in West Friendship on which various recreation groups have cast covetous eyes in recent years seems on the verge of getting its first tenant.
No, it is not a proposed public golf course for the farmland, off Route 144 opposite the Howard County Fairgrounds; that was voted down several years ago. It won't be ball fields, although as recently as a year ago several youth soccer, baseball and softball clubs were in talks with the county rec department, trying to make that concept work.
But never fear, you leaders of Western Howard County youth groups and also those with the Ellicott City-based Howard County Youth Program.
Plenty of acreage on the county-owned property, which has been assembled since the mid-1970s, remains for possible ball fields, if people want to resurrect talks about that prospect, said Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks.
What seems on the brink of being rolled onto 39.49 acres of what county government has dubbed West Friendship Park -- although it is still being leased out for farming -- is antique farm machinery.
It is amassed by a group of agri-aficionados who began a decade ago raising money for a museum to demonstrate how our county ancestors farmed.
A lease proposal is on the County Council's hearing agenda for Monday in the form of a resolution. The proposed deal is a lease for five years with the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club Inc. at $900 a month, or "in-kind services," with four optional five-year renewals possible.
It is unlikely that $900 a month will flow to county coffers. Rather, said Arthur, those in-kind services are likely to be construction at farm-buff expense of barns to house some of the agricultural equipment, as well as restoration and maintenance of what the county calls the Hebb House, a farmhouse on the property.
Arthur said the acreage, off Route 144, to be leased to the farm group, was not suitable for ball fields without costly regrading. There is a wetlands issue as well that will have less impact on the heritage group. The lease proposal includes an agreement by the farm group to allow access to any subsequent park-related development.
This is just an opinion, but spokesmen for those youth sports groups ought to make a statement Monday night of interest in possibly using parts of the remaining 300 acres just so county politicians don't lose track of the need for facilities in the west.
Arthur said the conversations with the youth groups have been for about 50 acres of open, relatively flat land that could be used for ball fields.
Bad news out west
Speaking of cramped sports fields out west, the long-awaited Western Regional Park in Glenwood, which had been ticketed for opening this fall, won't be opening then.
The new target for opening will be next spring.
Arthur said Monday that his department has begun notifying western county groups that because of a significant amount of finishing work that needs to be done near Western Regional's soccer-lacrosse-football fields and baseball diamonds, safety concerns have come into play, causing what can be described only as a very disappointing delay.
"The problem is, that while the ball fields may be ready themselves," Arthur said, "we will still have contractors who have to be trenching and doing other grading work related to lights and other facilities in the park, and people tend to wander into those areas. And that raises liability issues that can't be ignored."
Along the sidelines
LACROSSE: More than 300 rec-level players in the Howard County Youth Lacrosse Program will be competing Saturday in the group's second Lacrosse Festival at Cedar Lane Park. Games and other sport-related activities for boys and girls will begin at 9:30 a.m. and run through the day.