By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
Land for parks.
For rural counties, the idea of needing parks was a foreign one – important only in towns, where people live in close proximity.
Prior to 2006, that was the situation in Cecil County. County government basically had a one-person operation when it came to parks and recreation. Developing and caring for a few recreational amenities in the county was one of the duties of an existing department.
Things have changed through the years.
In 2008, Cecil County acquired a tract of land that has become Calvert Park.
The property included an arena off MD 272, just north of Rising Sun High School. The arena has kept a busy schedule handling teams, sports-oriented parties, dog obedience training and camps, including eight-week sessions of physical fitness programs for youngsters.
One of the arguments to encourage county officials to allocate money for the park was to explain how building fields will bring tournaments to the county. Sports tourism has the potential to pump millions of dollars into the local economy (see article on last weekend’s tournament on page 3).
Clyde VanDyke, director of Parks and Recreation in the county said the use of the fields is limited to the growth cycle of the grass.
He said the best way to promote tournaments to come to the county to play is to have great fields.
“We’re trying to get established. We want to maintain the reputation of having premier fields,” he said. “We want the awe factor when they get out of their cars.”
The county uses a tall fescue, bluegrass and perennial rye grasses on the fields.
“I won’t release those field until the grass starts growing,” VanDyke said. “When the grass stops growing, we want people off the fields. It’s a delicate balance.”
Phase I of the Calvert Park development started in 2013. Since that time, the park has added many fields, including an artificial turf field that has already seen a lot of use.
In fact, the artificial field and the collaborative efforts with Rising Sun High School and other organizations has prompted the county to partner with the school system to add another artificial turf field at Rising Sun High School. Another artificial turf field will be added soon to a yet-to-be-named high school in the near future.
Calvert Park has a paved trail that is just over a mile in length. There are basketball courts and a playground. Another playground is planned for an area of the park between sports fields. More parking has been added, allowing the park to handle hundreds of cars in lots and nearby fields.
And they need every parking spot they can get, VanDyke told the tourism committee on a recent morning.
Touring the park under cloudy skies on a week day, people were utilizing the park. They were strolling the paved trail. One woman pushed a stroller, a man had a dog trotting by his side, and two women were walking, pausing to enjoy a few minutes on a park bench.
Calvert Park is not yet completed. The next phase will add pickleball courts, a ropes course and an outdoor theater. The area behind the arena will be developed. VanDyke said the park is “a work in progress.” They are envisioning better traffic patterns, as well as hoping for improved concession facilities and bathrooms.
The county has closed Brick Meeting House Road to through traffic to make the area safer for those using Calvert Park.
While Calvert Park continues to develop as a very active park, the county is working to acquire a park at the eastern edge of the county that will be more passive in nature.
The location is the former Bittersweet Golf Course, that had been known as Brandwood Golf Course for many years.
The golf course has been closed for several years and nature has taken over the land. The greens are lush with weeks and brush. The ponds are havens for ducks and geese. Birds and other creatures are enjoying the trees and underbrush.
The county is looking to acquire approximately most of the acreage of the former 18-hole golf site. The former golf clubhouse and ten acres will not be part of the new county park.
“There’s a lot of interest in this property,” VanDyke said. The initial thought for this park would be that it would be mush more passive in nature than Calvert Park. The Bittersweet park would have trails and other amenities.
Other Parks & Non-Profit Park Group
County personnel manage a park in Conowingo, Chesland near Chesapeake City and have other sites around the county to maintain.
With limited resources and a growing inventory of land to manage, VanDyke said he is hoping to see a Friends of Cecil County Parks and Recreation to grow. The organization already has 501-C3 tax exempt status.
“We have a park pal organization, program, too,” he said.
For information on helping with county parks and recreational programs, go to the county website for information.
New State Park
This week, the Cecil County Council took a tour of the new Bohemia River State Park with the State Park Service’s Rachel Temby, who manages Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area and now has this new 460-acre property added to her duties.
Bohemia River State Park is located along the east side MD 213, just north of the Bohemia River bridge.
The state purchase of the property was completed in September.
“We have not done any site designs yet,” Temby said, ushering County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey, Vice President Dan Schneckenburger and Council members Bob Meffley and Jackie Gregory into the old house on the property. Portions of the house date back to the late 1700s. While there are some plumbing/heating issues to complete and painting to be done, the house is in great shape. It will be used as housing for a park service employee to make sure there is someone on-scene to manage and protect the site.
There is a lot to watch. The new park includes three miles of riverfront, woodlands, farmlands and several buildings. Farming will continue on the property, but the rest of the land will be available for park development.
“We’re hoping to do a full historical assessment of the property,” Temby said. “I think it has so much potential. It’s a great opportunity.”
The initial vision for the Bohemia River State Park is passive in nature. There will be places to launch a canoe or kayak, trails, picnic tables and other amenities, Temby said, noting this will be a park for the local community to enjoy. Looking at the waterfront as she talked with the County Council, Temby said she can see where boaters will want to pull up to the park and would enjoy picnic tables and trail access.
People residing in the southern end of Cecil County have let officials know they could use some parks to enjoy. The state has recognized that throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, there is a lack of facilities that allow people to get close to the water.
Temby said a small stakeholder group will come together to do some initial planning for the property. It is hoped that the public will be allowed to enter the park next summer. As that happens, work will still be underway to complete a more comprehensive plan for the Bohemia River State Park that will involve a larger group of stakeholders and possibly a consultant.
But there will also be chances for the general public to voice their opinions.
“There will be ample opportunity for public input,” Temby told the County Council.