ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — After more than a year of being closed to the public, Waterworks Park is being reopened to residents with permits.
The city closed the park off Defense Highway to save money and prepare for repairs to an aging, seeping dam.
But after Parks and Recreation Director LeeAnn Plumer received numerous requests that the city reopen the facility, officials looked into low-cost solutions.
They believe that with the help of volunteer rangers and reduced park hours, they can break even on the program next month through November. City officials said they had been making back only one-quarter of the money spent to keep the park open.
“We were disappointed we had to close the park in the first place,” Plumer said. “Hopefully, eventually, we can get it back to where we were.”
Park officials will host a meeting at the Pip Moyer Recreation Center on Hilltop Lane Wednesday at 7 p.m. for those interested in volunteering.
There will be a formal orientation for rangers later this month.
Park officials are looking for volunteers who can work a total of 15 hours a week throughout the three-month season.
A part-time park ranger will oversee the volunteer program. His salary will cost the city about $2,500 for the season.
Monthly and quarterly permits will go on sale Aug. 15. The city will issue 30 monthly permits costing $10 for Annapolitans and $15 for nonresidents. There will be a maximum of 50 quarterly permits costing $30 for Annapolitans and $45 for nonresidents.
Residents will be able to use the park between 4 p.m. and dusk on weekdays, 7 a.m. to dusk on weekends. The park will operate 42 hours a week, supervised by rangers for half of that time.
Waterworks will close during the winter and likely reopen in the spring, Plumer said.
The park, which opened about 20 years ago, is 45 acres of a 500-acre city-owned property. During the park’s heyday, residents often went there for its hiking trails, three fishing ponds and lush vegetation.
Plumer said the park has become a favorite of sport fishermen because it provides catch-and-release freshwater fishing.
The terrain is also a little hillier than most parts of the area, giving hiking enthusiasts more challenging trails.
Fred Matos, a resident who has enjoyed the park over the years, is eager to get his bass-fishing club, Crabtowne Bassmasters, involved in the volunteer program. Matos said he has a lot of good memories from Waterworks.
“I’m an avid bass fisherman, and my wife likes to hike and loves nature,” he said. “It’s a park where we can combine both activities.”
Since the park’s closure, he’s been spending more time at a pond in Bowie.
Public Works Director David Jarrell said though the dam in the park has problems with leaks, safety shouldn’t be a concern for park patrons.
“Absent of a really large storm, almost like a hurricane event, we think the dam is safe and we can manage the water level,” he said.
The dam is 12 feet tall and 275 feet long. Annapolis officials haven’t yet decided whether to repair it or remove it altogether, but will have to make the decision soon. Public Works staff have kept the water level 5 feet below the crest of the dam to minimize flooding hazards.
“We’ve been managing it for over a year now,” Jarrell said. “We’ve at least developed some expertise on how to keep that level down.”
Repairing the dam would cost about $1 million, and funds have been set aside in the city’s capital improvements budget to pay for the reconstruction.
But recently city officials have considered removing the dam and restoring the stream, which could cost about the same. Erik Michelsen, the executive director of the South River Federation, recently presented that idea to the council at a work session.
Some ecologists believe removing the dam would have many environmental benefits, such as allowing fish to move down the stream, creating nontidal wetlands and bringing back habitats for more species. It might also allow the dredging of nutrients and perhaps toxic chemicals that have been trapped behind the dam, Michelsen said.
More than 80 years ago, the property was used as a public water utility. The dam holds back water from the Potomac River Reservoir, a pool fed by Broad Creek. But the dam dates back even further.
Michelsen said the city’s water plant and historic mills have kept the dam in existence for 300-odd years.
But even the advocates of removing the dam say there are unanswered questions about this option. For example, the highways around the reservoir were engineered with the dam in place. No one knows how the dam’s removal would impact the culverts and infrastructure until the idea is researched and reviewed.
A study would cost about $100,000. In order to conduct the research, the city would need help getting grant funds.
This may be city’s last chance to consider removing the dam.
“Once it’s repaired, I don’t suspect the issue will be revisited, at least in our lifetime,” Michelsen said.
If the council decides to repair the dam instead, the work could be completed in less than four months.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)