By Susanne Lee
The next meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association will be held Wednesday, March 11, 7:15 p.m., at the Potomac Community Center. The speaker will be Kevin Brandt, superintendent, C & O Canal National Historical Park. Although the proposal for a new user fee for the C & O Canal has been rescinded, there are still other issues that will likely impact the Canal and residents’ use of this resource. One of the most significant threats to the park is deer predation, particularly on the Gold Mine Tract, a biological jewel close at hand. Superintendent Brandt will talk about deer management in the Montgomery County portions of the park. With almost 20 years in his position, his visit promises to provide a wealth of information about current Canal issues and an opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns. Of particular interest are the proposed increases in fees under the old user fee structure, traffic and parking congestion, especially on MacArthur Boulevard, the Pennyfield Lock Road bridge replacement, and WSSC’s proposed Mid-River Intake structure. As always, the public is most welcome to attend WMCCA’s meetings. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.
The C&O Canal
By Susanne Lee
What is it about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park? What caused such a visceral negative reaction to the recent National Park Service extreme proposal to impose user fees on all who enter the park — by land or water — along its entire 185 mile length. The National Park Service rescinded the proposal midway through a series of what it described as “robust” public meetings where public outrage was widely expressed. Permitting and monitoring of such fees would have posed an enforcement nightmare. On a deeper level, it would alter the ambiance and experience of visitors, many of whom are from out of town and find their way to the park via a rustic lock house road and feel a sense of discovery as well as the evident history that pervades this long, narrow corridor of green. While regular or local visitors might not mind paying, as they already do to enter at Great Falls, the specter of park rangers patrolling the many parking lots, ready to pounce on those who are unwittingly and illegally parked is discouraging and unfair. After all, it was saved because we want people to visit this remarkable feat of conservation and leave longing to return. Setting up a need to police visitors spoils the original intent of preservation.
But the proposal also hit a deeper chord. The Canal is like no other National Park in its draw. Because of its unique configuration, geology, historic significance, multiple recreational uses, biodiversity, and close proximity, it is more like a treasured front yard, even if we live many miles away. We are drawn to it again and again like no other park in the area, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis. Just walking the towpath alongside the mighty Potomac River is to engage in our nation's history. Family histories are still tied to the Canal lock houses, family traditions continue to be built on the outdoor activities and recreation provided by the Canal and Potomac River, and many hikers and bicyclists still follow that familiar route along the towpath from Georgetown to Frederick or even to Cumberland and back. Out-of-town visitors, especially international visitors, taken to the Great Falls overlook always marvel that such a wild place is so close to the National Mall.
The park allows each of us to experience the natural world on our own terms. And because of the enormous, continuing efforts of many, we do so with the reassurance and hope that the experience will still be there season after season, and year after year. Changes and surprises should be limited to those caused by natural forces, and not efforts to make it a Disney-like experience, Virginia-style waterfront development, or a limited access national park. We applaud the National Park Service for rejecting the proposal to put an “invisible” fence around this unique park. We look forward to hearing from Superintendent Brandt concerning other Canal issues of importance, including proposed alterations to historic features like the Pennyfield Lock Road replacement bridge and the long term impacts of the proposed Mid-River Intake construction at the WSSC Filtration Plan on River Road.
Artificial Turf (at) Playing Fields
By Carol Van Dam Falk
The Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, of which WMCCA is a member, reports that they obtained the support of Maryland state lawmakers to reintroduce three pieces of artificial turf-related bills over the next few months. The bills were introduced in 2014 but did not pass. The Coalition is submitting slightly revised versions of the bills along with information from an NBC television report on an alarming number of cancer cases found among young soccer goalies and the current federal warnings about known toxins in AT. Lead is just one toxic ingredient found in both the tire crumb infill and the plastic blades as they age and break down.
The three bills would:
- Prevent the Prince George’s County school system from building 22 soccer fields with the use of POS (Public Open Space) funds to install synthetic fields.
- Require that warning signs be posted at artificial turf fields about known toxins in AT and the health risks associated with playing on AT fields on hot days.
- Raise the liability cap on damages that people could collect from states and municipalities for not acting in the best interest of the public regarding synthetic turf fields.
The Coalition is encouraged in its efforts to expose the misinformation provided by the AT industry because not only is there more support in Annapolis, but groups across the nation are working to raise the level of awareness concerning the toxic nature of these synthetic fields and their components. Perhaps most importantly, the Coalition is urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to regulate AT as a children's product. In addition, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) sued the CPSC for not testing shredded and pulverized tires as a children’s product, as the CPSC said they would do. Furthermore, the EPA is no longer participating in the tire working group put together by the EPA and the rubber manufacturers' association in 2007 to convince the public that it was safe to install shredded tires on public playing fields. The EPA is now backing away from the entire controversy, calling it a state and local issue. For more information, go to www.safehealthyplayingfields.org.
Pennyfield Lock Road Bridge Replacement: Update
By Ginny Barnes
Pennyfield Lock Road dates back to the 1850s and is designated as Rustic in the Rural and Rustic Roads Master Plan. The bend skirted around the Dufief warehouse and is considered a significant feature of the road. WMCCA and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA) submitted joint testimony to the County Council in opposition to the proposed (and most destructive) alternative favored by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Nevertheless, Council staff is recommending the DOT alternative. A final decision will be made by the Council after committee work sessions.