Public comment sought on park plans
May 10, 2000
Terri Hogan
Staff Writer

The Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission is working on the draft master plan for the Rachel Carson Conservation Park and is asking residents to comment on the document.

The 649-acre park near Sunshine, which has road frontage on Sundown Road, Georgia Avenue, Gregg Road and Zion Road, was originally part of the Hawlings River/Patuxent River Watershed Park.

In 1977, it was renamed the Rachel Carson Regional Park in honor of the late Rachel Carson, a longtime Montgomery County resident and author of the classic "Silent Spring" and other books on the environment.

Although the park has been on county maps for years, it has not been adequately developed or maintained, according to Park and Planning Commission officials.

"Until we have a master plan, we have no staff or funds to work on the park," said project manager Rob Gibbs. "It has just been sitting there, remaining a well-kept secret."

Although there are no public access points to the park or signs identifying the area, the secret is out to local equestrians, hikers and wildlife organizations who have discovered the park and its rich natural resources.

"There are not many parks around that allow horses, so many of our boarders ride there," said Star Dalley, trainer at nearby Oatland Stables. "They can spend hours there, and get great enjoyment out of it."

The draft master plan makes recommendations to:

*Preserve and enhance the high-quality natural and cultural resources of this unique natural area.

*Establish a park entrance and parking area.

*Develop and maintain a trail system for hiking and equestrian use.

*Encourage the development by the local community of an area-wide equestrian trail network to expand riding opportunities outside of the park.

Gibbs said that because of the definition of a Conservation Park, development would be limited.

"For example, we would never put ballfields in," he said. "We will develop it responsibly, without damaging the natural resources."

Plans call for improving a driveway into the park, located off Zion Road, and adding a gravel parking lot, capable of holding 10 to 15 cars and two small horse trailers. A nearby pavilion with picnic tables and a portable toilet is also planned.

Currently, there are approximately 8.5 miles of natural surface trails within the park that have been worn by decades of equestrian and hiking use. The trails were not designed by the Park and Planning Commission and are considered some of the worst in the park system, Gibbs said, as many of them go through wetlands and moist flood plains.

The commission plans to provide a suitable trail system while preserving the park's natural resources.

The proposed plan calls for several equestrian loop trails in the park, as well as connections to other park and community trail systems outside the park.

"We envision the park like the center of the flower, with the trails looping in and out of the park," Gibbs said. "We are encouraging some of the surrounding communities to develop their own trails connecting to the park."

Some of the trails, however, will be designated as "hiker only" for those who seek a more solitary natural experience, he said.

The plan also requests that all of the trails be more user-friendly, and suggests providing maps of the trail system and marking the trails.

A hearing will take place May 25 at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Auditorium at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Copies of the plan are available at the commission headquarters, the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood and the Longwood Community Center in Brookeville.

"We encourage residents, civic associations and other interested parties to read through the plan and testify at the public hearing," said Planning Board Chairman William H. Hussmann. "Input from the public is essential to park planning in Montgomery County, and we appreciate the time our residents take to inform themselves and to offer their comments and concerns."

For the approximate hearing time or to sign up to testify, call 301-495-4600. Written comment can be sent to William H. Hussmann, Chairman, Montgomery County Planning Board, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.