Blandair’s North side to be a nature park

The north side (Part 2) UPDATED

Blandair Regional Park comprises three hundred acres straddling MD-175 in the middle of Columbia. The two hundred acres on the north side consists of open meadows, forests and wetlands, as well as a large manor house, barns, and several smaller outbuildings, including a former slave quarters. This land will become accessible to the public once an interchange is constructed connecting the two sides.

This post (with lots of images) describes the upcoming phases to be constructed in the Park, and what it will mean to open up the north side.

Blandair Regional Park

Capital Project N3102 PUBLIC MEETING NOTICE September 11, 2008

The majority of the land is preserved to protect sensitive environmental features such as small streams, ponds, wetlands, forest stands, hedgerows and meadows that will provide quiet places for nature study and contemplation, as well as including approximately five miles of trails and pathways. The pathways will connect with the existing pathway network.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

A small nature center will concentrate on backyard and meadow wildlife, with an observation deck and nature activity room. A Children’s Garden will provide three to four acres of creative child-level and hands-on flower and garden experiences.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

The historic Blandair Mansion will be renovated to provide rooms for meetings, social gatherings and classes, in addition to displaying historic information about the evolution of the agrarian lifestyle of Howard County. The garden/orchard area behind the mansion will be restored as a place to stroll or be seated outdoors.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

The farm’s outbuildings, including a smokehouse, slave cabin, springhouse, tenant houses, three barns, and several small sheds — all clustered in the central farmstead area — will provide actual examples of a working farm’s structures, and an authentic background for historic re-enactments.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

Children’s Garden

Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks has not yet begun planning the Children’s Garden but hopes to begin construction in FY2022.  I think of a Children’s Garden as a different kind of  playground, designed to engage a child’s imagination by exposing them to the wonders of nature.

Herb Schaal of EDAW,  who designed the world-famous Hershey Children’s Garden in Cleveland, developed a concept plan for the Children’s Nature Adventure at Blandair using a slightly different configuration than the Blandair Master Plan.  Thunder Hill Park Alliance, a nonprofit organization, organized Schaal’s four day visit here with funding by The Horizon Foundation.

Conceptual drawing, Children’s Nature Adventure, Blandair Regional Park (Thunder Hill Park Alliance) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR BETTER DETAIL

History of Blandair [Abridged]

by Preservation Howard County

Blandair is an exciting property in many ways, not the least of which relates to the many discoveries still to be made about the history of the home, its outbuildings, occupants, owners and the land itself. Because Blandair has only recently come under the stewardship of Howard County, reclaiming its history from the past is a relatively new undertaking, one that is in process and yielding exciting findings even in its earliest stages.

previous state, Blandair Manor House (from Smugmug)

 

Blandair Manor House today (by Harry Schwarz)

The earliest record of the site can be found in 1757, when Blandair was part of a larger tract of land that was transferred as the patented “Talbott’s Resolution Manor.” . . . Many of Blandair’s occupants and owners have served in elected political positions and appointments, and thus gained prominence or an historical footnote. They were present at meetings of historical significance and their names were signed on documents that set law and policy for hundreds of years to come.

Theodorick Bland (from Wikipedia)
Manor House, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

Theodorick Bland, acquired it in 1836. Theodorick Bland served in a number of private and public positions throughout his career, advancing rapidly in Maryland politics. . . . At the top of his profession by 1824, Bland became the Chancellor of Maryland, the highest paying judicial post in Maryland at that time, and one he would occupy under ten Governors, resigning just shortly before his death in 1846. The current manor house, which was extensively repaired after a fire, thought to have occurred in the early 19th Century, is believed to date to the years during which Bland served as Chancellor.

badly deteriorating Seed Barn, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)
badly deteriorating Seed Barn, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

In the second half of the 19th Century, Blandair . . .[became] a working dairy farm under the ownership of Henry & Emma Stern Brossene . . . . The final private purchasers of Blandair were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith, who lived on the farm with their daughter Elizabeth, known to many as Nancy. Miss Smith remained at Blandair throughout her life, not marrying.

Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)
Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

When she died in testate in 1996, the property transferred to her two surviving and non-local relatives, both of whom chose to sell Blandair. The most recent and final transfer of the property was to Howard County, Maryland, which purchased the property from the heirs of Elizabeth C. Smith.

http://www.preservationhowardcounty.org/Blandair/index.htm

Many more pictures of the buildings: https://flyaway.smugmug.com/History/Blandair-Farm/Blandair-Manor-House/i-b2HMCwp

More pictures of the land: https://flyaway.smugmug.com/History/Blandair-Farm/Beauty-in-Neglect/i-XM4QLzh

Slave Quarters

by Thomas Reinhart (Maryland Historical Trust), June 2004 [Excerpt]

Documentation suggests 1845 as a date for the quarter’s construction. When Bland was negotiating the purchase of the property in 1844, he noted the necessity “of putting upon the land such new edifices as would be indispensably necessary, of which there are none, that is a Negro quarter, stables, etc.” He had a team of carpenters working on the dependencies after closing the sale.

Blandair Slave Quarters (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress)

The quarter is an excellent example of mid-19th century slave housing and reflects the “reforms” in design and construction implemented by plantation owners who wished to protect their investment in their slave labor force. During this period, planters began to allocate more money, time, and materials to building slave quarters in order to improve the living conditions.

interior, Blandair Slave Quarters (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress)

The double-pen quarter measures approximately 12-feet by-32-feet, with a gable roof and a large central brick chimney. . . .  The first floor is divided into two rooms by the central chimney stack with passage on either side. Each room has an exterior door, two windows, and a fireplace. A stairway from each room leads up to a separate room on the second floor, but only the south stairway survives.

Blandair Slave Quarters drawing (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

From Heritage Matters, National Park Service:  https://web.archive.org/web/20070715132626/http://www.nps.gov/history/crdi/publications/HM9.pdf

Phasing Plan, Blandair Regional Park

An interchange is planned for construction FY 2020 – 2021 that will connect the two sides and open the north side to the public. According to the plan, Oakland Mills Road will then be closed on the west side of the park.

Overall Site Plan, Phase J, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Public Works) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

 

Rendering of Blandair overpass at MD-175 (Howard County Dept. of Public Works)

The Blandair Park Phasing Plan shows Phase 1 and 2 complete, with Phase 3 now under construction. Efforts to rehab the Manor House and stabilize the other historic structures (Phase H) are already underway. Subject to funding, the Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks hopes to begin construction in FY 2022 of Phase 4 on the north side, consisting of basic infrastructure, landscaping the festival lawn, and developing a Children’s Garden. Phase 6 on the south side, consisting of indoor courts and a skate park, may also be constructed at this time.

Phasing Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks). CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

 

To see the south side (Part 1):  https://hocomd.cc/2018/10/01/playgrounds-for-all-ages-at-blandair-regional-park-columbia/

 

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Playgrounds for all ages at Blandair Regional Park, Columbia

The south side (Part 1)

Active recreation is the theme for the first 100 acres of Blandair Park, a 300 acre regional park being developed in the center of Columbia by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks. Construction of two phases has been completed on the land south of MD-175 at Oakland Mills Road.  Phase 3, just begun, will introduce additional options for play by all ages and abilities, and nearly complete the south side build out.

Back in 2005-2010, I advocated as part of the Thunder Hill Park Alliance to make the entire parcel a nature park.  Thankfully, the 200 acres on the north side are intended to be a preserve of forest, wetlands, and meadows, with a nature center, children’s garden, and a historic farm complex.  

Read further for an orientation (with lots of pictures) to what amenities are on the south side now and the innovative plans for Phase 3. It’s a long post, but scroll through for the pictures. We’ll look at the plans for the north side in Part 2.

~ Harry Schwarz

What is Blandair Park? [Excerpts]

by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks

Blandair Park is one of the county’s premier destinations for sports events. . . . . Amenities now available include three lighted synthetic turf multipurpose fields, 2 lighted synthetic ball fields, press boxes and bleachers, along with playgrounds, pavilions, tennis courts, restrooms and a parking lots.

Blandair Regional Park, south side of MD-175, looking West (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks). Phase 2 is in the foreground, now complete. Phase 3, now being constructed, is the undeveloped land upper right center.
Blandair Park, Phase 2 , now completed (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

The farm [that became Blandair Park] traces its beginnings to lands granted to the Talbot family in colonial times, and it was later owned by members of the Dorsey, Howard, and Weems families. In 1845, Theodorick Bland, Chancellor of Maryland (1824-1846), purchased it and named it “Blandair.”  . . . . The last residing owner, Nancy Smith, passed away in 1997 and the farm, long having ceased operations, was purchased by Howard County with assistance from the State’s Program Open Space in 1998 for use as a park.

Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)
Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)

In 2001, a committee of 23 citizens was appointed to advise the County on the direction it should take in developing the park. The Committee determined that the North Area should feature historical interpretation, preserve natural areas, and provide predominately passive recreation and nature education. It also could provide space for occasional large outdoor gatherings. They determined that the South Area should provide more facilities for active recreation, as well as preserve its natural areas.

Approved Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

https://www.howardcountymd.gov/BlandairPark

Report on how the athletic fields are being used

by Michael Blevins, Sports Manager (Howard County Recreation & Park)

https://hocomdcc.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/michael-blevins-report.pdf

Blandair’s next phase has a focus on inclusive play [Excerpts]

by Janene Holzberg (The Baltimore Sun) August 16, 2018

Phase 3 Illustrative Site Plan, Blandair Regional Park  (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW
Phase 3 existing site, Blandair Regional Park (Harry Schwarz)

A groundbreaking ceremony for the biggest, most expensive — and most inclusive — playground in a Howard County-owned park will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday [August 22nd] in east Columbia, as development of the third phase of Blandair Regional Park gets underway.

County Recreation and Parks Department officials estimate the $10.9 million project will take 18 months to complete and will open in the late spring or early summer of 2020.

Conceptual illustration of Playground for All, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks/captions by Harry Schwarz)

Nicknamed “Playground for All,” it is the third of seven phases planned for the 300-acre park site over the next decade.

The playground design’s emphasis on special features for all ages and abilities arose from focus groups the county held with community organizations and residents starting in 2013, he said.

Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

Instead of 50 percent of the playground equipment being accessible to kids with disabilities — which is the most common formula for accessibility in county parks — that number was increased to 80 percent for Blandair’s playground.

Six color-coded pods will contain themed areas geared toward various sub-groupings of children from 18 months to 12 years, and the entire playground will have perimeter fencing to help contain those who tend to wander. Shade structures, picnic tables and benches will be incorporated into the layout.

Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

“This playground has been intentionally designed for special needs kids and the amount of thought and planning that went into it is incredible,” [Beth Benevides, a Marriottsville resident and former president of the Howard County Autism Society’s board of directors] said. “But the features will appeal to all kids of all ages, so we’re flip-flopping things by pushing the mainstream into the special-needs community.”

Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

An Infinity Web climbing apparatus and other planned playground features were also selected for their innovative qualities.

Musical instruments called Free Notes comprise a feature that sensitivity experts say will relieve stress and soothe park patrons. These include cymbals, chimes and drums. Dinosaurs, the farm and outer space are themes of a few as-yet unnamed areas.

Conceptual illustration of Free Notes playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for all ages (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

This phase of the park will also contain three bocce courts, two croquet courts and two horseshoe pits, so-called “backyard games” that aren’t available in other county park facilities and will likely appeal to seniors, [Raul Delerme, Chief of the bureau of capital projects for the Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks] said.

Delerme said a less flashy but integral feature of Phase III will be construction of a Recreation and Parks Department maintenance facility that will service the entire park. The shop “will give us an even greater presence on-site and that’s important to us,” he said.

To encourage accessibility, the park is connected to downtown Columbia by a paved path and there is a bike rental station in Phase I, Hunter said [Anna Hunter, the department’s public information and marketing director],  and the park has also provided a bus stop on Oakland Mills Road.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/bs-md-ho-blandair-groundbreaking-20180816-story.html

We believe in children of all abilities playing together

Our inclusive playgrounds promote physical, cognitive, learning, visual and hearing experiences that enrich play experiences for all children. We believe everyone deserves the highest level of fun.

Consulting with both child development and inclusive playground experts, we incorporated focus on the complexities and developmental benefits of play to include the specific features children need at each stage of growth. Designing an inclusive playground goes well beyond the ADA’s playground equipment requirements or even designing and building playgrounds with wheelchair accessibility.

Inclusive play means:

  • Creating wide paths between playground equipment so all children can walk or roll between playground equipment
  • Creating surfacing which is easy to use with crutches, wheelchairs and other mobility devices, creating wheelchair accessible playgrounds
  • Creating cozy or quiet spaces for children who may become overwhelmed and may need a quiet space
  • Ensuring that special needs outdoor play equipment isn’t in a separate area, but included with other equipment, allowing children to play together
  • Buying playground equipment that can be used in a number of ways, by everyone.

https://littletikescommercial.com/our-products/commercial-playground-equipment/inclusive-and-accessible-playgrounds/