What’s the Point?

What’s the Point?

Public hearing draws mixed comments.

What is the point of Blockhouse Point? At a Dec. 18 public hearing, approximately 20 people came to express their ideas about the 630-acre conservation park which straddles River Road, near Callithea Farm.

The park is considered to be one of the top five parks in the county by Montgomery County Park and Planning staff because of its high quality forest and civil-war relics.

The Planning Board is in the process of developing its Master Plan for Blockhouse Point, which environmental groups say allows for too much recreation in the area.

“Conservation parks were set up for a specific purpose,” said Bob DeGroot of the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation. “Anything that degrades that purpose should not be allowed in the park.”

DEGROOT AND OTHER environmental advocates say that horses and mountain bikes will cause irreparable harm to the park. Currently there is some equestrian access and no bicycle access. The plan calls for limiting the equestrian access to a trail that would link Callithea Farm to the C&O Canal, and for allowing bicycle access via a newly blazed trail which would allow bikers to go from Gaithersburg to the canal.

Environmental groups were more upset about the prospect of bikes than horses, and pointed out park regulations which they think should disallow the practice.

“Currently biking is not allowed in conservation parks,” said Ron LaCoss, of the Sierra Club. He said only passive recreation is allowed in conservation parks and biking is not considered passive recreation.

Others worried about the impact of non-native species, the spread of which is made easier by the addition of more trails in the park. “The army of exotics is just waiting to invade,” said R.G. Steinman, of Sustainable Montgomery.

“Please don’t allow another impact to Blockhouse by allowing bike use,” said John Parrish of the Maryland Native Plant Society.

Equestrian groups also pointed at bikers as the cause of problems. “You could easily imagine the trails being overrun by bikers,” said Barbara Sollner-Webb of Trail Riders of Today.

BICYCLING ENTHUSIASTS, however, say that they will not damage the trails.

“The science has developed for building roads and trails that don’t erode,” said David Scull, of the International Mountain Bike Association.

Bicyclists also contend that they are seeking parity with other residents who enjoy different forms of recreation. While the county operates facilities that cater to many different sports and activities, bicyclists say they are underrepresented. “There are not enough trails open to bikers,” said David Magill of Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts.

“Is it fair to deny a large and growing group of citizens access to the parkland?” said Ronald Alt, of the same group.

Comments by mountain bikers prompted the Planning Board to ask its staff for hard numbers about the amount of trails which they are allowed access to. “It would be helpful to have a quick synopsis for all three [hiker, biker, equestrian] groups in the general area,” said Commissioner Allison Bryant.

The commission may have a worksession about the park as early as February. They may or may not make a decision about the park at the worksession.