Baltimore County considers law inspired by controversy over painted trees at Oregon Ridge

The Baltimore County Council plans to vote Monday on a bill that would give greater scrutiny to projects affecting wildlife at county parks, a move inspired by a controversial tree-painting project at Oregon Ridge Park.

County parks officials gave approval to the Nikki Perlow Foundation to paint the trunks of about 50 trees at the Cockeysville park with inspirational designs. Called the Forest of Hope, the art installation is intended to celebrate those who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It was installed in September of last year.

The foundation is named for a young woman who struggled with sobriety but ended up dying of an overdose in 2007. It offers financial and other support to young adults who battle addiction.

Members of the Oregon Ridge Nature Council — a volunteer advisory board — said they were not told or consulted about the tree-painting project, and were concerned about lasting damage to the trees.

Mary Jane Shanks of Monkton told members of the County Council during a public hearing that the intention of the Forest of Hope project was good, but its implementation was flawed. She said the nature council’s role is to help county staff protect the park’s integrity and educate the public about nature.

“The trees now stand for years as examples of what not to do,” she said.

Patricia Ghingher, a retired science teacher from Parkton, said the paint is likely to last for 20 years or more, inhibiting the bark’s ability to exchange gases between the trees and the atmosphere.

She questioned how the paint project was approved without public input. She said she hoped the bill being considered by the council “would hopefully give us some checks and balances so it would not happen again.”

Officials with the Nikki Perlow Foundation have said that they met with county officials multiple times to gain approval for the project. County officials have defended their handling of the matter.

This summer, dozens of plaques that are part of the Forest of Hope were vandalized.

The bill before the council would make a slight tweak to the law that allows the county parks and recreation director to approve activities in the parks. It would require the parks director to consult with the county director of the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability when approving a range of activities that would harm animals, plants or aquatic life on park property.

The county’s Commission on Environmental Quality, a volunteer board that also was concerned about the Forest of Hope, suggested adding oversight to the laws that govern park activities.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican whose district includes Oregon Ridge Park, said requiring the parks director to consult with the environmental director should avoid future problems.

“It sets up a system of checks and balances,” Kach said. “Therefore, if someone else wants to do something in our parks, this is going to go through our environmental agency as well, which is very important.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

“I think we do need to sometimes ask others for input before we would do something so permanent,” Bevins said.

Marks said he appreciated the input from the environmental commission on the issues. “As a council, I think we should be listening to our advisory commissions,” he said.

The sponsors would need to pick up one more vote for the bill to pass the seven-member council when it votes Monday, but it may not come from Council Chairman Julian Jones, who expressed skepticism during a hearing last week.

Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, questioned if it was necessary to pass a new law because of a disagreement over one project in one park.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to legislate someone’s behavior,” Jones said.

The Baltimore County Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday at the Historic Courthouse, 400 Washington Ave. in Towson.

pwood@baltsun.com

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