Peta Richkus: Parks Commission a Good Step, But Baltimore County Should Have More Representation

Originally constructed in 1865, the Jericho Covered Bridge spans Little Gunpowder Falls at Gunpowder Falls State Park. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

By Peta Richkus

The writer is a Baltimore County resident, and formerly served in state government as secretary of the Department of General Services and port commissioner.

The good news: Marylanders have embraced getting outdoors. About 3 million more people visited our state parks in 2020 than in 2019. The bad news: park capacity limits resulted in almost three times the number of capacity closures in 2020 than in 2019.

So kudos to Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) for establishing a legislative commission, the Maryland State Park Investment Commission, to “investigate and make recommendations regarding overcrowding in Maryland State parks.”

Already, the Department of Legislative Services staff has outlined the commission’s agenda for Chairman Parris N. Glendening (my old boss) and the eight legislators assigned to the panel. And that is to address the results of park funding decreases and the slowing of park development that have occurred since the 70’s.

Specifically the commission will look at:

  • Adequacy of existing state park facilities to meet demand for recreational opportunities in the state;
  • Levels of operating funding and staff for existing state parks, as well as the need for capital funding to provide a high-quality experience to park visitors;
  • The need for new state park offerings and any recreational deserts across Maryland; and
  • The extent to which state parks and associated recreational opportunities are adequately accessible to all populations of Marylanders, including low-income Marylanders, those who lack access to a car, and Marylanders with disabilities.

The next commission meeting is Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and is accessible via Zoom and the MGA YouTube channel.

The public is invited to submit written comments before the third Commission meeting on October 5 to Jeremy D. Baker ([email protected]), or Andrew Gray ([email protected]).

That’s all well and good.

However, the makeup of the commission does not reflect the distribution of the capacity problems experienced throughout the state.

Montgomery County has two state parks and two representatives on the commission. Anne Arundel County, with its four state parks, also has two representatives on the commission. Baltimore County has seven state parks, all of which have experienced the kind of overcrowding seen across the state. But, incomprehensibly, Baltimore County has NO representative involved in this important effort.

How does this even make sense?

The President and the Speaker can address this by adding a member of the Baltimore County delegation.