Howard County is rich in many natural resources. The county lies within the watersheds of two major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay - the Patuxent and the Patapsco rivers. Approximately three-fourths of the county drains to the Patuxent River, which forms the county’s southern boundary, and the remaining one-fourth drains to the Patapsco River, which forms the county’s northern boundary.
The county has experienced development pressure due to its proximity to the expanding Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas. The county’s population was estimated at 218,000 in 1995, and is projected to reach 302,500 by 2010. Major development is concentrated in the eastern portion of the county, particularly in Columbia and Ellicott City.
Howard County covers approximately 160,670 land acres. Agricultural land is primarily located in the western portion of the county. In July 1999, the county had 22,400 acres of land permanently preserved in preservation parcels and agricultural, historic, and environmental easements. As of 1999, the county owned 5,081 acres of parkland and natural resource areas and an additional 2,410 acres of open space. Much of this county-owned land is located along stream valley corridors in the eastern portion of the county. The state holds approximately 9,752 acres along the Patuxent and Patapsco rivers. In addition, the Columbia Association owns about 3,180 acres of open space in the eastern portion of the county, and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission owns about 2,200 acres of land along the shorelines of the Patuxent reservoirs.
The county greenways system is comprised of a network of stream valley parks, open space and other protected lands, primarily of a north-south orientation. County greenways are protected corridors of green space maintained in a largely natural state for a variety of purposes, including safe passage for people and wildlife. One purpose of the greenways system is to provide land for trails, connecting neighborhoods with recreational facilities, schools, and service centers. The 1990 General Plan recommends the following policies and actions to ensure the environmental integrity of its stream valley network: (1) coordinated planning for greenways; (2) continuity of greenways; (3) implementation of greenways; and (4) acquisition priority. (Note that the 1990 General Plan is being updated in 2000 and will strengthen greenways policies and actions, recommending a detailed plan to identify areas for public access and recreation, link greenways planning to trail planning, and set acquisition priorities.)
The Howard County 1999 Comprehensive Recreation, Parks and Open Space Plan (1999 Recreation Plan) contains a greenways element consisting of a conceptual master plan which identifies possible greenways connections and desirable linkages. It serves as the principle guide for the future development of a comprehensive greenways system. To accomplish an effective and integrated system of greenways, the 1999 Recreation Plan recommends that a detailed greenways master plan be developed and made an integral part of the county development review process.
1) Cabin Branch Greenways
The Cabin Branch Greenways is a partially protected greenways which makes a cross-county connection between the Patuxent and Patapsco rivers in the western part of the county. Much of the corridor includes active farmland, which prevents public ownership and access.
2) Cattail Creek
Cattail Creek is a potential greenways along a major western tributary of the Patuxent River. It could offer a north-south, cross-county connection between the Patuxent and Patapsco rivers, in addition to a tie-in with the western terminus of the Middle Patuxent Greenways. Much of the corridor includes active farmland, which will prevent public ownership and access.
3) Deep Run
Deep Run is a partially protected greenways in the eastern section of the county. The portion of Deep Run from where it meets the Patapsco River, west to the Dorsey area, is contained within the Patapsco Valley State Park. The county owns some areas and will seek opportunities for open space dedication through the subdivision process.
4) Hammond Branch Greenways
The Hammond Branch Greenways is a potential greenways in the southeastern portion of the county, running along the Hammond Branch from the Little Patuxent River at the county line. The corridor runs within a mile of Savage Park and continues northwest, passing the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Co-Op and Hammond Park. The county owns some acreage and expects to get at least 100 acres from pending and proposed mixed-use developments, which could allow for public access and trails in some areas.
5) Little Patuxent Greenways
The Little Patuxent Greenways is a partially established, 15-mile greenways along the Little Patuxent River. The river valley extends north from its junction with the Middle Patuxent in Savage Park. The corridor connects to the Murry Hill stream valley where the county owns 180 acres. The Little Patuxent lies in the more densely populated section of the county, and the county hopes to gain additional open space through future subdivisions.
Five county-owned parks exist along this corridor: Savage Park, David W. Force Park, Gwynn Acres, Centennial Park, and Alpha Ridge Community Park. This corridor contains the Howard County Spinal Path for much of its length, links to the Columbia Association’s extensive open space and path system, and has trail spurs to nearby communities along the Centennial Access Pathway and the Plumtree Pathway.
6) Long Corner Connector
The Long Corner Connector is an existing greenways along an unnamed tributary in the far western part of the county. This connection is provided by land that is under county easement and owned by a private hunt club. It provides a critical link between the partially established Patapsco Regional Greenways and the Patuxent Regional Greenways.
7) Middle Patuxent Greenways
The Middle Patuxent Greenways is a partially established 19-mile greenways extending diagonally through the center of Howard County from Savage to Cooksville. Most of the corridor up to Rt. 108 is protected.
County-owned parks (Savage, Gorman, and West Friendship) and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area make up significant portions of the greenways and allow public access. The corridor also includes the University of Maryland’s Central Farm. Smaller open space additions are being acquired through the subdivision process. The county’s approximately one-mile long Mill Trail parallels the river in Savage Park.
The significance of this greenways is its role as a natural link between the more densely developed eastern portion of the county and the rural western portion.
8) Patapsco Regional Greenways
The Patapsco Regional Greenways is a partially established, multi-jurisdictional greenways along the Patapsco River. The Patapsco Valley State Park serves as the spine for the greenways and provides almost 14,000 acres of protected land in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, and Howard counties. The state park has five separate recreation areas that are heavily used by residents of the surrounding urban areas.
Much of the land protected in Howard County is within Patapsco Valley State Park and Hugg Thomas Wildlife Management Area. The state park is not continuous around Ellicott City, a historic town on the river, but there is potential to link the town to the park via a system of on- and off-road trails. The county has been successful in securing environmental easements along the South Branch Patapsco. This area is mostly privately-owned parcels, which will prevent public access and use. The easements are essential to preserving the steep slopes and natural buffer that surround the river.
9) Patuxent Regional Greenways
The Patuxent Regional Greenways is a largely protected regional greenways that includes seven jurisdictions extending from central Maryland through southern Maryland. In Howard County, the corridor is about 30 miles long and forms the boundary between Howard and its neighboring counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s. The greenways includes the five-mile long Triadelphia Reservoir and the seven-mile long T. Howard Duckett (Rocky Gorge) Reservoir. The majority of the stream valley is in the Patuxent River Park and in Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) ownership. There are some trails located on the WSSC property. The county owns approximately 2.5 miles of stream valley, including the 90-acre High Ridge Park, and is interested in completing acquisition of privately owned riparian areas from High Ridge Park to Rt. 1.
The Patuxent River has been designated under the state’s Scenic and Wild Rivers Program. This river valley is of major significance because it is a natural area located between major population centers of the Baltimore and Washington suburbs. It is readily accessible within a short travel distance for day trips. In addition, it connects with the lower portions of the river valley between Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Calvert counties, making it a greenways corridor of almost 100 miles.