The Baltimore County Council voted unanimously Monday to exempt a roadway off Harford Rd. from the county’s long-standing ban on parking along Big Gunpowder Falls.
During the virtual meeting, Councilman Wade Kach urged the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to build more parking lots around Big Gunpowder Falls State Park and the Falls.
“I ask the state of Maryland: please provide parking for your parks,” the northern county Republican said. “It’s just vital, if you’re going to have these resources available, that the parking needs to be provided — or else it’ll create what we’ve been going through the last three years.”
Some who frequent the Gunpowder River corridor from Carney to Perry Hall, however, doubt that reopening the 2.5-mile road to parking will improve hazardous conditions for pedestrians and drivers.
Councilman Wade Kach’s bill was approved 7-0, and will lift the public parking ban on Notchcliff Road, a strip that connects Route 147, or Harford Road, with Glen Arm Road, near the part of Big Gunpowder Falls river that flows from Loch Raven Reservoir.
Per the law, which goes into effect 14 days after its enactment, the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation director has to sign off on where exactly parking will be permitted.
Notchcliff is among a handful of roads where the council banned parking in 2020, under legislation sponsored by Kach, to “address dangerous parking on the side of the road for visitors to the Falls,” according to county auditors’ fiscal notes.
The Republican also offered legislation in 2017 to make parking illegal along part of Monkton Road for the same reason, before seeking council approval three years later to extend the ban to other roads around Big Gunpowder Falls, which is part of Gunpowder Falls State Park. The council that year also raised the fine for violators from $150 to $200, later amending it to clarify that no parking is permitted near county signs around Big Gunpowder Falls.
During the council’s Aug. 1 work session, Kach said he brought up banning parking in 2017 because of “ongoing traffic issues” along Gunpowder River and its popular trailheads in his 3rd District, which he said were exacerbated by the lack of parking provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“I’ve tried to work on this, etc.,” Kach said. He sponsored the bill after it was suggested to him that “there is enough space for some parking” on it that would “not protrude into the traffic flow.”
Kach said the proposal came at the request of police officers who wanted him to allow more parking in areas around the Falls, alleviating pressure on patrol officers.
According to Kach, lifting the ban would only “provide about 10 more spaces.”
“But if you have any familiarity with the issues up there, 10 is better than none,” he added.
On Sunday, Towson resident Alex Stewart said allowing more parking near Harford Road and Big Gunpowder Falls could reduce the time it takes visitors, such as herself, to find adequate parking at the trailheads.
“Last summer, it was insanely packed,” Stewart said, estimating she spent a half hour searching for a nearby spot.
To Jeff Greuninger, the narrow section of Harford Road near Big Gunpowder Falls has “just become such a main thoroughfare” over the decade that he’s been cycling there. People seem to drive at a speed of 50 mph around Notchcliff and Harford roads, he said, adding that car accidents there aren’t uncommon.
“This is the most high-risk area, I feel like, I ride my bike in,” the Parkville resident said Sunday as he stood on the side of a narrow dirt path on Notchcliff Road after hoisting his mountain bike into a truck bed.
Public-safety issues have persisted along Big Gunpowder Falls on a thin, winding stretch of Harford Road. Drivers are largely relegated to parking in modest pockets off the state highway and smaller intersecting streets, and pedestrians must tow the narrow white line between steel guardrails and a steady flow of vehicles to find paths to the falls.
“It’s good that we keep it restricted, in a way,” Greuninger said about parking.
DNR, which oversees Maryland’s parks, “is supportive of the intent of this legislation, to establish new parking for visitors to this singular area of Gunpowder Falls,” department spokesman Gregg Bortz said in an email, calling it a “shared objective” of the state parks system and Baltimore County.
According to DNR, areas across Gunpowder Falls State Park saw a 12.4% increase in visits from 2019 to last year; Bortz said the department doesn’t keep track of visitor numbers at more specific areas of Gunpowder Falls.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, also supported Kach’s bill.
Olszewski’s administration wants “to ensure access is readily available while also ensuring pedestrian safety” at the county’s “many incredible natural assets and recreational opportunities,” said Erica Palmisano, a spokesperson for the Democratic county executive. “The administration believes the councilman’s’ proposed adjustments are appropriate in helping to strike that balance.”