County needs, deserves, regional park

Kai Hagen

December 13, 2002

One of the many benefits of living in Frederick County is that we have access to all that Washington and Baltimore have to offer, including some of the best institutions and facilities and events anywhere.

It's easy to take for granted, but it’s no small thing to be able to spend the day at a world class museum and be home for dinner. The same with spending an afternoon with family at the National Aquarium, the National Zoo or the National Arboretum.

It is good, however, that we don't have to go down the road to eat at a fine restaurant, or watch a movie, or do our Christmas shopping. For all the legitimate concerns about how fast the county is growing, and how it will or should grow, there is no question that growth has brought a variety of amenities closer to home.

So far, however, it seems that most of those new and improved amenities are private enterprises.

There is nothing wrong with them, of course. But what about a similar expansion of new and improved public places and amenities?

That is not to say there haven't been any. We have a wonderful new central library, plus ballfields, playgrounds and picnic areas have been built to serve new neighborhoods. Some of our older parks have gotten facelifts.

Things take time. Rapid growth usually means playing catch up with even the most basic facilities and services. At a time when we are debating about our Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, and struggling to ensure that our fast growing population will be served by adequate roads, schools, water and sewer, police and fire protection, some might consider it foolish to propose something more ambitious.

Nevertheless, that's what I'm doing. Good land is only going to get more scarce, more expensive and farther out of town. Now is the time to consider the creation of a large and diverse, mixed use regional park, somewhere close to Frederick. Something for the future. Something to serve a county with another 100,000 or 200,000 people. Something befitting a county that takes pride in the quality of life here.

A new regional park could include a vibrant mix of natural, recreational, social and cultural amenities. To do it properly, it would not be a few dozen acres, but rather a few hundred, perhaps a thousand or two.

A diverse piece of rolling land that size, with old fields and woodlots and a creek or two, could provide and support a great variety of resources, activities and facilities, natural and developed.

Shouldn't our county offer residents an outstanding nature center, with year-round programs, indoor and out, along with inviting interpretive trails. More than once it has struck me as odd to have to drive to Montgomery or Carroll County to visit one.

It is a pleasure to visit the the National Arboretum in Washington, or Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. But there is a group of folks in our own county who have been trying to find the land for an arboretum of our own.

A modern visitor center with concessions could be placed at the heart of a separate, well landscaped area offering a wide variety of recreational activities, including a large and exciting creative play area for kids, a skateboarding park for teenagers, horseshoe pits, sand volleyball courts, a Frisbee golf course. Other possibilities include a mini water park, an archery range, a sledding hill, a dog run.

There might be a pond, perhaps with a swimming beach, paddle boat rental and fishing dock. Certainly, such a park would include attractive public and group picnic areas. There could be a few miles of paved bike trails and a lane for inline skaters.

Impossible, you say? Too much land? Too many facilities? Too expensive? Not realistic?

It would be easy to write off the idea as a wild or ridiculous pipe dream. But many such parks already exist. They are not limited to large cities and wealthy suburbs. These places offer living and working models for what such a regional park could be like, and how to make it work.

Revenue could be generated in many ways to offset costs, including parking permits, food concessions, a small store, equipment rental, group picnic reservations or small fees for certain activities. The idea is not to make a profit, but to help support facilities and activities that would not otherwise be possible.

It’s not uncommon for an arboretum to be developed and maintained by a non-profit organization. There are Master Gardeners and gardening groups and others in the county who would be thrilled to provide expertise and volunteer time.

Today, it’s hard to imagine Frederick without Baker Park. I certainly wouldn't want to.

It's Frederick's version of New York's Central Park. Baker Park provides an inviting place for summer concerts, a variety of festivals and our Fourth of July celebration. People walk, bike and skate in and around the park. Kids fish in Culler Lake or feed ducks along Carroll Creek. There is a picnic area, playgrounds, a gazebo, a public pool, tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields and more.

The park is also home to a rose garden, the Joseph Dill Baker Carillon, a community center and the historic Schifferstadt house and gardens and Architectural Museum.

Baker Park wouldn't be there at all if someone hadn't had uncommon foresight and ambition. Once at the edge of town, Baker Park is a precious and priceless 44 green acres, winding through pleasant neighborhoods along Carroll Creek to the edge of the historic district, just a few blocks from the center of town.

Now it is our turn to think ahead, with uncommon foresight and ambition. I don't think I'm the only one who finds the idea appealing, and believes there just might be a way to make it happen. If you do, too, I'd love to hear from you..

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at