Inaccessible Patapsco Valley State Park Needs $4.5 M
While Main Street Ellicott City, a major economic driver, received emergency funding, government attention, armies of enthusiastic volunteers and widespread fundraising support from businesses throughout the region after the devastating flood of May 27, Patapsco Valley State Park didn’t.
In fact, less than a mile downstream from Ellicott City, large portions of Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) remain inaccessible to visitors four months after the flood. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesperson Gregg Bortz said there is no timeline for reopening the trails that are still closed, but ackowledged that park officials will reopen them piece by piece as these damaged sections are restored.
In the meantime, some recreational opportunities tied to hiking, mountain biking and climbing will be curtailed in the Glen Artney and Hilltop areas until visitor safety can be assured.
PVSP generates considerably fewer direct revenue dollars than Ellicott City but Maryland’s most densely used park nevertheless plays an important role in drawing outdoor enthusiasts — and potential shoppers, restaurant goers and overnight visitors — to the area.
Repairs On Hold
“The Grist Mill Trail is going to be the lynchpin that will hold up things being reopened,” said State Del. Eric Ebersole (D), whose district encompasses portions of the park.
The trail that connects PVSP’s Lost Lake recreation area to the Ilchester Road pedestrian bridge is more than a recreational amenity. It also provides a safe bicycle route for daily commuters traveling between Ellicott City and the towns of Relay and Elkridge and points beyond. That’s no longer an option for them.
While the Grist Mill Trail had already been closed for months as a staging area for work crews replacing a sewage pipeline and for demolition crews preparing to remove Bloede Dam from the river, DNR officials had expected it would reopen soon after that work was completed.
“That’s not going to be possible now, because some sections of the trail have been totally washed away and others are still covered with rocks and silt,” Ebersole said.
Additionally, two bridges on the trail were damaged beyond repair and will have to be redesigned and rebuilt to withstand future flooding.
“Right now we’re waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to come through with some funding, but it’s not going to be enough,” Ebersole said.
The General Assembly does not reconvene until January 2019, “so finding more money to deal with this situation will be tricky,” he said.
Perhaps one consolation is the fact that portions of the park also lie within Legislative District 44B, which is represented by Del. Pat Young (D), a member of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee.
“He is already exploring ways of helping the park get what it needs to reopen completely,” Ebersole said.
Since the flood, park officials have reopened sections sporadically as visitor safety issues are resolved.
“They’re making every effort to get the trails opened up, but everything that leads directly to the Grist Mill Trail from the network above the Glen Artney and Hilltop Areas on the Baltimore County side will remain closed,” Ebersole said, at least until missing portions of Pigs Run Trail can be rebuilt.
It may sound as though PVSP has been largely sidelined in the flood response, but volunteers like the members of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway (PHG) have been hard at work trying to make some damaged sections accessible again.
“We quickly mobilized our members after the flood, and they’ve been helping to clean out the damaged areas so that visitors could start coming back,” said PHG President Grace Kubofcik.
By July, she said, the Greenway had orchestrated six different cleanup efforts, martialing 175 people who removed more than three tons of trash that had washed into the park.
Past conservation efforts were helpful in mitigating some of the damage said Kubofcik. “The areas where we planted trees were dramatically protected during the flood, particularly in the Lost Lake area, which withstood the flood better than any of us thought it would.”
The Greenway’s flood response efforts will continue through the fall. “Volunteers are welcome, and can check the calendar of events on our website (www.patapsco.org) to learn more and register,” Kubofcik said.
Road to the future
Even if the park receives funding to repair the Grist Mill Trail, severe damage to the roadways outside the park near Ilchester presents a different obstacle for park access and for some bike commuters.
The Baltimore County Department of Public Works (DPW) scheduled a public meeting for Oct. 18 to discuss the future of River Road, Thistle Road and Hilltop Road.
“Repairs to River Road and Thistle Road have been made for the purpose of maintaining access to existing residences,” said DPW Chief of Highway Design Rahee Famili. “Roads are closed beyond the last residence.”
“A lot more resources need to go into maintenance and improving the existing infrastructure,” Kubofcik said. “Something has to be done because of all the state parks, Patapsco is the most heavily used and most frequently closed due to capacity issues.”