" one ...function that ought to be regarded as just as essential as any ... parks and recreation, maintaining green and open spaces for the enjoyment of all."
BALTIMORE SUN |
SEP 02, 2021 AT 11:55 AM
Any list of essential government services is likely going to include K-12 public schools, transportation infrastructure and fire and police departments. Somebody has to pick up the trash, carry the mail and keeps those court and prisons running, too. But there’s at least one additional function that ought to be regarded as just as essential as any of the above: parks and recreation, maintaining green and open spaces for the enjoyment of all. In Maryland, that extends from Swallow Falls State Park on the mighty Youghiogheny River in the west, to Assateague State Park on the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It includes ball fields and hiking trails, scenic overlooks and wildlife sanctuaries and even some quiet waters where you can splash about in boats.
Parks enrich our lives in many ways. They allow us an opportunity to exercise. Their presence raises property values. Their greenery helps offset the greenhouse gas emissions that spur climate change — trees literally inhale carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. Parks and open spaces help offset other forms of pollution, too, including protecting the drinking water supply from stormwater runoff. National polls have shown over and over again that Americans love their parks and support public investment in them. But there’s one growing problem with these otherwise happy circumstances: Marylanders are getting to the point where maybe they love their parks a little too much.
The highest free-falling waterfall in Maryland, Muddy Creek Falls is located in Swallow Falls State Park. Standing at about 60 feet, the falls are part of the Pottsville Formation, which is made up of eroded siltstones and shales, as well as cross-bedded sandstones that date back about 300 million years. (KhanlM/Shutterstock). (KhanIM/Shutterstock)
One of the unexpected side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was to create a surge in park attendance as Maryland residents sought recreational opportunities close to home. A record 21.5 million people visited Maryland parks in 2020 compared to 14.9 million the year before, a 45% increase. The Department of Natural Resources had to close parks that reached capacity on numerous occasions — 292 times in 11 parks to be exact. State parks weren’t just popular, they were viewed by many people as necessary, safe respite in a sea of public health, political and economic turmoil.
Yet all that popularity raises a fundamental question about whether Maryland has enough green space to go around. And that’s particularly true given how people living in Baltimore and other parts of the state, where wild places and well-cropped playing fields are far less accessible. You can bet that families turned away from those packed parks, such as Patapsco Valley in Ellicott City or Sandy Point near Annapolis, were none too pleased about it. Year in and year out, both those facilities attract more than 1 million visitors annually. Yet how much worse for those who don’t own a car, for whom a walk in the park might require an hour-long bus ride and perhaps a transfer or two?