About a half mile from the Defense Highway Home Depot sits another world:
This city-owned, 45-acre park feels far removed from the ever-present traffic, buildings, and asphalt of the nearby and .
As trees display their colorful fall attire, a lone kingfisher trills from a limb hanging low over the water. Occasional fish ripple the surface of the reservoir, searching for floating insects. A deer bolts from the wooded trail at the sound of oncoming hikers.
The calm that suffuses the park belies the issues that now confront the permit-only property.
Foremost among these issues is the safety of the dam, which evolved from a small water mill in the 1700s to a more extensive dam that created the main
reservoir sometime after the Civil War.
By 1904, the dam fronted three reservoirs that held the drinking water for the city of Annapolis.
Because the current earthen-and-concrete dam is now structurally compromised, “the city is required to make repairs under a Maryland Department of the Environment decree,” said LeeAnn Plumer, director of the Annapolis Department of Recreation and Parks.
Although the dam poses no imminent threat, concern remains about its long-term structural integrity. The 1-2-3 punch of earthquake, hurricane, and tropical storm of late summer exacerbated this concern, Plumer said.
“My understanding is that there is visible damage at the dam as a result of the
natural disasters,” she said.
Two weeks ago, the city, including the Office of Emergency Management and Department of Public Works, held a dam-preparedness drill to address emergency steps necessary to deal with dam failure or overflow of the dam.
The recreation and parks staff is working closely with public works to ensure that
the park closes if any safety issues arise. Public works keeps close tabs on the
reservoir’s water level and can open a valve to bleed off excess water and relieve
pressure on the dam.
Necessary dam repairs are currently on short-term hold while assessing whether the dam should be fixed or breached. Breaching would allow the water to drain out of the reservoir.
Erik Michelsen, executive director of the South River Federation, has proposed this idea as a potentially sound environmental alternative.
Dam integrity, however, is only one issue facing the park.
Closed for a year and a half due to lack of operating funds, the park reopened at the end of the summer with a volunteer ranger program in place.
Plumer and Chuck Hecker, the park’s only paid (but part-time) ranger, trained
17 volunteers who have committed to at least five hours a month of patrolling the park. These volunteers are enthusiastic Plumer said, and remain key to
maintaining a presence in the park.
Hecker has been a ranger at the park since its opening in 2000. He oversees
the current crop of volunteer rangers and will be involved in the scheduled
development of a trail-management plan this winter.
At present, revenue from the sale of 30 monthly and 50 quarterly passes is
providing adequate funds for park operation, Plumer said.
Plumer’s cost estimates show two primary expenses for the park—six hours
a week of pay to Hecker and rental of a port-a-pottie—meaning the park operates
on well less than $1,000 a month.
For now, the Recreation and Parks staff is relying instead on the goodwill and dedication of the volunteer rangers who donate their time and energy to keeping the park open to the public.
Money remain tight, however, and officials have greatly reduced hours of operation. The park will close for the entire winter season, but Plumer said she hopes that dawn-to-dusk hours will resume come spring.
The park is beginning to gain some traction; quarterly passes sold out this fall
within a week and monthly permits for October also sold out.
Many of the park’s visitors are fishermen aiming to snag a bass or crappie from the reservoirs, but more families and hikers also are obtaining passes to enjoy the park's solitude and beauty.
Art and environmental science classes from Anne Arundel Community College also have used the park on a one-time-use basis as an outdoor classroom.
It’s easy to see why the park is growing in popularity.
On a recent weekday, the still waters of the reservoir mirrored the colorful leaves above. A park bench installed by the TKF Foundation’s “Open Space, Sacred Places” program invited passersby to sit and contemplate the peaceful scenery.
And the sounds of passing traffic, though clearly audible, quickly faded into the background.