Baltimore County-area trails remain closed in Patapsco Valley State Park after May storms, flooding

Portions of the Avalon area within the Baltimore County side of Patapsco Valley State Park remain closed almost four months after flooding and historic rainfall washed through Ellicott City, flooded the Patapsco River and damaged homes in Howard and Baltimore counties.

The popular Grist Mill Trail and other trails leading to it remain closed, as do portions of the Buzzards Rock, Saw Mill, Forest Glen and Vineyard Springs trails. The Glen Artney area of the park, which was closed in the immediate aftermath of flooding and storms in late May, has reopened.

“I was there while it was raining the entire time, and I didn’t think we were going to have much of anything left on our hillside,” said Rob Dyke, park manager.

The damage to the park has caught the attention of area state legislators, including Dels. Eric Ebersole, Clarence Lam, Pat Young, Charles Sydnor and staff from Del. Terri Hill’s office, all of whom toured damaged parts of Patapsco in mid-August.

Ebersole described the damage as “clear and extensive.”

Before the flooding, the Grist Mill Trail ran for about 5 miles along the Patapsco River in Baltimore County, and was paved and flat so that the trail and its landmarks — a swinging bridge, the Bloede Dam — would be accessible to visitors.

But now, according to Ebersole and park officials, the pavement is ripped up, damaged and “washed away.”

‘Not navigable’

Lam said that there are “sections of the [Grist Mill Trail] that are not navigable. There are bridges that were blown out by the pressure that came down from some of the streams that flowed into the Patapsco River.

“There’s going to be a lot of need for resources [and] financial support to rebuild some of the structures that were lost [and] bring some of the trails back to navigable shape.”

The Howard County side of the Avalon area around the Patapsco River, and much of Patapsco Valley State Park, which encompasses more than 16,000 acres, were largely untouched or have already recovered, Dyke said.

The Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River was a different story, however. When nearly 10 inches of rain fell in late May in about four hours, much of it was on the Baltimore County side of the park, where streams funnel through tunnels that are below railroad crossings for CSX. When the rain fell, the path of least resistance was for the water it to rush along parallel to the trails, washing them out, Dyke said.

Conversely, in Howard County, many of the trails have been rehabilitated recently and had more of a “back and forth” pattern rather than an “up and down” pattern on the Baltimore County side, Dyke said. Water in Howard County traveled down slopes perpendicular to trails, washing out only parts of them, rather than traveling parellel to trails as it happened in Baltimore County.

Dyke said he spoke with the former park manager of Patapsco Valley State Park, Robin Melton, in late September at a park-wide event.

“In her six years at the park, the roads flooded twice. This summer, the roads have flooded in the Avalon area seven times,” he said.

Funds for rebuilding

Ebersole said he and the other delegates are in a “holding pattern” on any definitive solutions to the washed-out trails since the Maryland General Assembly is not in session until January.

Ebersole said he’d support a measure before the legislature to secure additional funding for repairs in the park once the session begins. “If we could find a proper avenue” for that money to come from, he said.

“It’s a tremendous resource in this suburban area to have a park that large. It’s got a wilderness feel to it that you can’t get everywhere,” Ebersole said.

Young, who serves on the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates, said the Maryland Department of Natural Resources could be eligible to receive federal funds from FEMA to help with flood repair because a national disaster was declared at the time of the heavy rains in Baltimore and Howard counties.

If federal dollars don’t come through or if the money is not sufficient to cover restoration of the trails, Young said, he would support DNR if it asked the legislature for a larger capital budget.

Dyke said he did not know when visitors could expect the closed trails to reopen.

“There’s no temporary work you can do to get people on those trails. It’s going to have to be a permanent fix. I think we’re too far out to be able to tell you a good timeline on that,” he said.

cboteler@baltsun.com

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