Since May 2, boaters and anglers trying to use a Gunpowder Falls State Park parking lot in Kingsville have encountered a padlocked gate. Signs in English and Spanish flanking the gate say the Jones Road lot is closed through Sept. 1 to "allow the park's natural resources to recover from heavy use."
"We were noticing over time that the carrying capacity at Jones Road was being exceeded," said Sarah Witcher, northern-area manager for the park. "Way more people were coming than the area was originally designed for, and as a result, it would have a number of impacts both on the environment and the surrounding community," including littering, trampled plants and cars parked on neighborhood streets. Maryland Park Service staff removed nearly 3 tons of trash from the Jones Road area between Memorial Day and Labor Day last year.
While the trail down to the river is still open, Witcher said, the closure of the parking lot is intended to stop the "general overuse of the area."
Park Service officials decided last winter to close the lot after meeting with state legislators, Baltimore County police, Maryland Natural Resources Police and CSX, which operates a rail line that crosses the Gunpowder above the parking lot.
"It was the sheer number of people using the park," said a resident of the nearby Bradshaw community, who was involved in an initial meeting with Park Service, Natural Resources Police and county Police Department officials hosted by concerned local residents. "The health of that area has suffered greatly."
Visitors to the park left their cars along narrow roads, in driveways and on private fields after the park lot filled up, and residents could not have the cars towed for 48 hours, the resident said, adding that locals also found dirty diapers and other trash from visitors in their trash cans.
Some park users said they felt left out of the process and that the Park Service has not sufficiently explained its reasoning.
"To have an agency determination on a closure without involving the public at large or the stakeholders that are also responsible for protecting the land is really appalling," said Theaux Le Gardeur, executive director of the advocacy group Gunpowder Riverkeeper. Le Gardeur heard about the closure from visitors to his fly-fishing shop in Monkton. "All summer, seemingly, people will be driving down to that access point to see it gated."
The park's website does not have information about the lot's closing, though the signs at the lot were put up three weeks in advance, park assistant manager Andrew Hangen said.
Nick Boley, president of the Baltimore Canoe and Kayak Club, said kayakers are now parking along U.S. 40, which crosses the Gunpowder a few hundred feet below the Jones Road lot. They take their boats out of the river and walk to their cars through tall grass on the side of the four-lane highway. Boley said a club member saw police ticketing boaters' cars that were parked on a stretch marked with "No Parking" signs.
"Route 40 is a very dangerous roadway with certainly a lot of heavy traffic," Le Gardeur said. "Everybody's going to get pushed onto Route 40, and that's not the place to take a boat out."
"It'd be nice to know exactly what the problem is" at the Jones Road lot, Boley said. "Seems like it'd be easier just ticketing people for throwing trash."
Witcher said she tried to contact the club online the week before the closure but did not get a response. She said park officials probably would meet with community members and law enforcement groups soon to discuss the effects of the closure.
"A lot of community members directly surrounding the area are very happy that it is closed," she said. "Some user groups have not been happy with the decision as well."