CALVERT — As Cecil County focuses its efforts on expanding Calvert Regional Park, county Parks and Recreation officials are faced with questions on how to balance its burgeoning sports tourism and the needs of county residents.
On the heels of Calvert Regional Park’s biggest sports event yet, the Board of Parks and Recreation held a public hearing Tuesday night on the potential purchase of a 10.8-acre parcel adjacent to the current park. If approved by the state Board of Public Works next month, the county would use $437,000 state funds from Program Open Space to buy it. Settlement is on track for August.
Parks and Recreation Director Clyde Van Dyke explained that at some point, the land would be developed for more fields, possibly up to three, and additional parking. It would also lift pressure from Rising Sun High School, which has four athletic fields incorporated in the park.
“The main thrust behind this is not to only provide fields for residents and [Rising Sun] High School and to expand, but to handle the increased sports tourism events that are coming to us,” he said.
Pauline Morrow, a Route 273 resident and the lone attendee of the public hearing, told the board that she wanted to see this new acquisition “used for the right uses” to offset some of the blowback she experienced during the Top of the Bay girls’ lacrosse tournament last weekend.
“Never have I seen so many rude people in my life … a park seemed like a nice idea when we talked about this, but I didn’t realize it at the time to think of all of the out-of-staters that would come here,” she said.
The Top of the Bay girls’ lacrosse tournament, hosted by the One Love Foundation, was the county’s biggest undertaking in the three years since Calvert Regional Park opened for business. Typically, the park hosts tournaments with up to 70 teams, notably with players from across the nation.
Top of the Bay had 370 teams play last weekend, split between the Calvert Regional Park and Cedar Lane Regional Park in Bel Air. Van Dyke said that 128 teams came to Calvert Regional Park, and most ignored arrival instructions.
Due to currently inadequate parking at the park for such large events, athletes are asked to carpool to the tournament and park at Calvert Elementary School a mile up the road. From there, buses typically shuttle athletes to the field.
But last weekend, Van Dyke said that impatient drivers opted to park on the shoulder of Route 273 and walk to the park. Another variable was that the tournament featured young athletes, between 8 and 10 years old.
“When you have younger participants, they bring mom and dad, grandpop and grandmom,” he told the board after the public hearing. “I don’t know how many cars I saw with one or two people in it. That’s not acceptable.”
Another factor was that the One Love Foundation — an advocacy group formed to honor Baltimore native Yeardley Love who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2010 — had oversold the event, Van Dyke added.
The end result for Morrow, who was hosting an estate sale to cover the cost of a funeral, was chaos as cars lined Telegraph Road. The Parks and Recreation staff did mark off some of the shoulder on Sunday, but it didn’t deter all drivers. The only road that is not permissible to park on the shoulder is Interstate 95, according to Van Dyke.
“It was a zoo. We sit in a little community, and there’s no place to put these cars,” Morrow said. “They were using my driveway as a turnaround and when we blocked that off, they were doing U-turns in front of my house. They were very disrespectful.”
The ‘dark side’ of success
Calvert Regional Park has been the cornerstone of both former County Executive Tari Moore and now County Executive Alan McCarthy’s plans to tap into a multi-million-dollar sports tourism market. The end goal is to develop 23 acres, with 6.5 acres incorporated from Rising Sun High through the memorandum of understanding with Cecil County Public Schools.
The park already has 11 tournament-style turf fields, which Park and Recreation Board member Matt Morris pointed out was already a boon for residents.
“As a parent of an athlete, it’s an amazing boost for kids to competitively play on a turf field,” he said. “We’re traveling to other schools and the whole district is playing on turf fields. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Looking at the economics, Cecil County is already reaping the benefits of sports tourism. Rental feels for Calvert Regional Park between May and July are projected to bring $64,000 to the general fund.
June, with two back-to-back lacrosse tournaments scheduled, would bring more than half that revenue around $35,000.
Despite the frustration that came with Top of the Bay tournament, Van Dyke noted that it had brought big dollars to the North East area. He estimated that 8,000 people came to the area for the tournament and resulted in a $1 million impact to the local economy.
“You could not get into downtown North East. The restaurants were packed, the Walmart was inundated. The Citgo [gas station] on Route 272 almost ran out of fuel,” he said during the public hearing.
Morrow agreed those facts looked nice, but asked the board and other top county officials to consider residents’ needs as well.
“Don’t ignore the people that are trying to live their lives while this brings in extra bucks when it’s days of utter chaos and it takes 45 minutes to go to the store,” she said. We didn’t move to Los Angeles, we live in the country.”
After the public hearing, Board of Parks and Recreation Chair Don Harmer noted that the issues the county were facing now at Calvert were a temporary matter — and a sign of future success.
“Bringing all these people to one spot, there’s always going to be a small dark side to being successful,” Harmer said. “There’s a learning curve. It’s a good problem to have.”
There are no conditions that come with Program Open Space funds to develop the 10.8 acres, so conceivably it could be used for parking needed for tournaments if needed before its developed into turf fields and actual parking lot.
Until then, county officials have turned their attention to the third expansion phase of Calvert Regional Park, starting with engineering plans in July. The goal is to be ready for construction by July 2019, according to Craig Marker, project manager with county Department of Public Works.
The recently-adopted capital improvement program includes $250,000 in Fiscal Year 2019 for third phase design plans. Development would be focused on a part of the 10.8 acres and some of the Rising Sun High School land.
Calvert Regional Park is scheduled for eight more tournaments this year — most of them two-day events — including the Project 120 Lacrosse showcase on June 23 and 24.
Although there are 149 teams registered, Van Dyke expects that this sport event to go more smoothly than last week, as the participants are high school athletes for a college lacrosse recruiting event.
“When you have older girls, they may drive themselves or mom and dad may come in but the whole family’s not involved,” he said. “So even though we have as many teams, we may not have as many cars.”
After the Top of the Bay tournament, Van Dyke said that his department will not schedule any new events at Calvert Regional Park in excess of 70 teams. After third phase development and expansion is complete, the parks and recreation staff will reassess that policy.
Councilman George Patchell, who serves as a ex-officio member of the Board of Parks and Recreation, touted Calvert Regional Park’s success last weekend during Tuesday’s legislative session, but warned the public about the upcoming lacrosse showcase.
“Expect the same traffic issues [from last week]. There were backups about a mile in each direction. The beginning [of the event] is hectic,” he said. “Stay away from Calvert if you can.”