When Keith Rosenstiel retired from his corporate job with its grueling hours, he resolved to get outdoors. He began to leave his Cockeysville home at sunrise and hike Oregon Ridge Park. Rain or shine, seven days a week, year after year.

There’s something magical about the wildflower meadow at the end of his hike, the 11 acres brimming with milkweed, asters and goldenrod. Butterflies flit about, rabbits nibble native grasses, and redwing blackbirds stand atop the tall stems like acrobats.

Or at least there was. Rosenstiel returned to the meadow Wednesday morning; it looked like a crime scene.

The wildflowers were mowed down. The native grasses were reduced to nubs. No buzzing, no chirping. The wreckage was silent and still.

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The earth was churned up, he noticed, like a rotary cutter had plowed through.

“There were a lot of nesting birds in there, a lot of rabbits in there,” he said. “I thought I was going to cry.”

Rosenstiel went home and sent an email to Ralph Brown, president of the Oregon Ridge Nature Center Council, alerting the park stewards: It had happened again.

Members of the nature council are frustrated by what they describe as Baltimore County’s inept and heavy-handed maintenance at the popular 1,043-acre park. Last summer, volunteers say, maintenance crews mowed down a 3-acre meadow at the western end of the park. They say crews also made a bumbling attempt to repair two walking trails and ended up digging ditches.

“I would have been pretty angry under any circumstance, but it’s the fact that this was the fourth occurrence,” said Brown, the nature council president. “I feel like getting a restraining order against rec and parks.”

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Wildflower meadow at Oregon Ridge that was mowed down.
The wildflower meadow at Oregon Ridge, after it was mistakenly mowed down by Baltimore County maintenance crews. (Courtesy of Karen Jackson)

The wildflower meadow was planted about six years ago on the northwest corner of the park near Shawan Road, an area that had been used by utility companies to stage heavy equipment.

Three years later, the little meadow flourished with milkweed for imperiled monarch butterflies. There were bluebirds everywhere. In summer, hikers and dog walkers would stop to watch swallows dive for insects. The meadow hid chipmunks, mice and rabbits — also luring hawks, kestrels and owls. Its tall grass belied a self-sustaining ecosystem.

As wild places and native species vanish across Maryland and beyond, Rosenstiel, Brown and others recognized the meadow as a refuge.

Maintenance crews aim to mow once a year, but that’s supposed to happen during winter, when the meadow is dormant. County officials acknowledge it was a mistake to mow this time of year.

“We are aware of — and deeply disappointed by — the untimely cutting of the meadow at Oregon Ridge Park, and are working with the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability on a mitigation plan to ensure the resiliency of this habitat moving forward,” county spokeswoman Erica Palmisano wrote in an email.

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Maintenance work at the park had been handled by the Baltimore County Property Management Division. But as a result of the incident, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. has ordered the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks to take over the work, Palmisano said, “to prevent this from occurring in the future.”

Brown said he received an apology from the county executive’s office. He’s hopeful the meadow will be protected going forward.

“They seem to be taking this quite seriously,” he said. “They’re nice people. They’re not Satan. I don’t know why they can’t get their act together.”