It was a hot summer day at Kinder Farm Park, and 9-year-old Erin Murphy was standing in a field of verdant grass as birds chirped brightly beneath a sunny sky. But Erin, her curly brown hair matted with sweat, wasn't looking at the scenery.
"We need to be rescued!" she shouted, waving her arms insistently. Flanking her were Paul Wise and Brandon Dorr, also 9. The three fourth-graders from St. Rose of Lima School in downtown Baltimore were visiting Kinder Farm Park as part of a school field trip. They had just spent 90 hot, sweaty minutes ambling along the park's 2.4-mile perimeter trail. But now they were lost. Their water bottles were empty, except for a frog Erin had captured in hers. Things looked grim.
The group's chaperone, Erin's mother, Pam Murphy, was studying a map on a wooden park kiosk when suddenly the kids cheered: A uniformed park ranger driving a golf cart had emerged from a wooded trail to save the day.
"We just came down this way, trying to follow the trail, and we got lost," Pam Murphy explained to their rescuer, park ranger Bob Hicks.
"Happens all the time, ma'am," Hicks said with a smile.
At the request of Pam Murphy, who needed her inhaler after a romp in the sun that had "brought out the allergies," Hicks dropped the golf cart's tailgate, and they all hopped aboard.
"Yea!" shouted Erin.
"We got rescued!" added Brandon and Paul.
Although Kinder Farm has footpaths, horse trails, picnic facilities and fishing ponds, its historical trappings are what set it apart, Hicks said. The Millersville park sits on land that was once a working farm. Many of its buildings - offices, a machine shop, storage sheds - were converted from old farmhouses and barns. The park is home to all manner of donated farm relics, including a steam boiler, farm tractors and blacksmithing equipment, some dating back to the late 19th century, when farming thrived in Anne Arundel County.
'It's just beautiful'
"You're looking at quite a slice of the county's history," Hicks said. He took the group back to the park's clean, well-developed play area, which has a playground and two wooden pavilions, each large enough for 100 people. The pavilions had been rented that day by the St. Rose of Lima School.
Hicks, one of two full-time rangers permanently assigned to the park, has been with the park since development began on it in spring 1998; the park opened in 1999.
"It's a very nice job. I just enjoy myself here," he said. His duties include keeping up the facilities, monitoring the wildlife and hosting park programs and events.
"It gets real pretty around here in the winter, too, when it snows," he added. "We get skiers here in the winter, and of course in the fall with trees changing color it's just beautiful. It's an all-season park."
Located off Jumpers Hole Road, Kinder Farm Park comprises 288 acres and is operated by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks.
Although about one-third of that acreage is devoted to a sports complex owned and operated by the Greater Severna Park Athletic Association, Kinder Farm boasts animal stalls with livestock, meadows teeming with flowers, vegetable gardens, four ponds and a variety of wildlife.
A single jetliner flew overhead as Hicks slowed the golf cart to a stroll, driving alongside a wooden fence bordering rolling fields dotted with grazing cattle.
"We got five of 'em," he said. "And sheep, goats, turkeys, the pigs and, of course, the chickens." With the exception of the chickens, all the animals are owned by members of the Kinder Farm Park 4-H Livestock Club, Hicks said.
The club's 29 members assist park staff with caring for the animals, he said. On Saturday, the park hosted a 4-H open house, attracting many members from other local 4-H clubs.
The park is named after the Kinder family, which at one point owned about 1,100 acres of farmland in the county. The Kinder family acquired its first tract in 1898 and ran a successful truck-produce operation, growing fresh fruit and vegetables to transport via rail and truck to Baltimore.
After World War II, the Kinders turned exclusively to cattle farming, which was more profitable after the advent of the refrigerated truck made their farm's proximity to the Baltimore market less valuable.
Over the next few decades, the Kinders began selling off parts of their land for residential development. In 1979, they sold the land that would become Kinder Farm Park to Anne Arundel County.
Many of the park's programs, aimed at getting children involved in summer activities, emphasize education, said Bill Offutt, park superintendent.
"I mean, there are kids who think you get chocolate milk from a brown cow," Offutt said. "Our focus is agricultural education, but we're not a petting zoo." He sighed, then admitted: "But some of them can't help being cute. When those long-eared new baby goats are running around and you got their ears dragging on the grass, I suppose that's pretty cute."
Offutt has been the park's superintendent since it opened and has been with the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation for nearly 16 years. While there are 23 regional parks in the county, Kinder Farm Park is unique, he said.
"We're the only park that has an agricultural motif," Offutt said. "Agriculture in Anne Arundel County was disappearing very rapidly, and some people saw a need to preserve that history."
Most of the buildings at Kinder Farm Park date to the 1930s, and the building housing the park headquarters and Offutt's office was built in 1925. In light of the park's historical value, the master plan for its development includes a farm museum. But Offutt is even more ambitious.
"One of our ultimate goals is to re-create a Depression-era farm," he said.
While farming was once a way of life for many in Anne Arundel County, today there are few working farms left, and most of the land has been developed.
Said Offutt: "There aren't too many places left in the county where you can do this kind of thing."