By Kellie Woodhouse
Elkridge residents Wednesday showed dozens of seasoned mountain bikers that they’re not the only ones who can master the attack position, an alert stance bikers use when they ride through rocky terrain.
Members of Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, a mountain biking advocacy group, and the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks want to built a one-acre mountain bike skills course at Rockburn Branch Park, in Elkridge.
But residents who border the park are concerned about the increased traffic and illegal activity they fear will follow.
The two groups debated the issue at a meeting Wednesday at the department’s headquarters on Oakland Mills Road held by the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board.
MORE members say that course will be a family-oriented area with beginner and immediate level tracks that will allow bikers to improve their skills. The course, they say, will be built and maintained with grants and money from MORE.
“This is a place where you can sit in the shade, see your children working on their bike skills,” said MORE representative Melanie Nystrom, whose two young children are mountain bikers.
But Nystrom and her fellow mountain bikers faced some strong, unexpected opposition from neighbors who aren’t convinced the county has considered the impact the course could have on Rockburn, a park they say is already overburdened with visitors on weekends.
They say park visitors speed down their streets and park on their curbs, and that bikers often use residential yards to illegally access the park after dark.
Elkridge residents also complained that the county did not inform them of the public meeting.
“We definitely feel that this has been swept under the rug. As residents that border that park, nothing was done to try
to let us know what has been proposed,” said Elkridge resident Yvonne Rawleigh, who said she found out about the meeting by chance three days earlier. “We have major issues with the population already in Rockburn Park.”
Parks department Director John Byrd said the county is not required to notify residents of the meeting or even to hold a public meeting on the issue.
“Mountain biking is a serious trend,” Byrd said. “This is an opportunity for us to embrace it.”
Elkridge resident Steven Rawleigh said the park already has issues with illegal drug activity, which he fears will get worse if the skills course is constructed.
Other residents say they are concerned about rainwater run-off increasing watershed at Rockburn Creek.
“My concern is about the process that was used,” said Elkridge resident Katherine Taylor. “The policy decisions behind this project, the cost involved —the intangible and unknown costs — the environment, what benefit there will be to the Howard County residents (and) the draw that this will bring to Rockburn Park.
“I have no doubt that MORE... will make this a state-of-the art facility, it’s just not appropriate for where it’s proposed to be.”
But mountain bikers at the meeting — who outnumbered opponents — said Rockburn Park was the perfect location for such a venue.
North Laurel resident Todd Plunkett, a mountain biker, said he’s “always looking” for places to improve his skills.
“To have the ability to be with my family at the skills park... I can’t even imagine it,” he said excitedly.
Elkridge resident Delos Dupree said he learned to mountain bike on a bumpy trail, without any training. As a result, Dupree said he’s taken many mud dives and suffered several injuries.
“We found out by trial and error, I think it would be a great blessing for the younger generation not to go through the pain and suffering that we had to,” he said.
He also reminded the panel and opponents of the idea behind public parks.
“The Howard County park system is for everybody, it’s not for people who abut next to it,” he said. “Just because you live there, it doesn’t make it your backyard.”
Ellicott City real estate agent and mountain biker Matt Zielinski likened the complaints to some of his clients’.
“They want to buy a house on the golf course, but then they complain when they find golf balls in their backyard,” he said. “It seems like you don’t want to share (Rockburn Park) with anybody else.”
By the end of the meeting, some residents appeared willing to compromise with the bikers, and vice versa.
“This is something that we can do together, instead of trying to be adversarial with each other,” Zielinski said.
The advisory board said it would schedule an additional meeting to discuss the matter.
Comments on the plan can be sent to:
Department of Recreation and Parks
John Byrd, director
7120 Oakland Mills Rd.
Columbia, MD 21046-1621