SILVER SPRING – Plans are underway to convert the 3,700-acre Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg into a natural area that will include many activities that most county parks offer. However, the renovations will be done in a natural setting that works with the existing landscape.
Often, renovating a park means leveling vast areas for soccer and baseball fields or playground equipment. But the $8.7 million renovations planned at this park, located near Route 270 in the northern part of the county, will be done in a way that visitors will not be able to use the facilities until the changes are completed said Ching-Fang Chen, a landscape architect with Montgomery Parks.
“The idea is to immerse people into the environment rather than change the environment,” she said. “We are trying to capture the character of the site.”
When completed in six years, much of the Piedmont meadow, rolling hills, stream, accompanying valleys and trees will remain.
“The Piedmont meadow is one of the few high-quality meadows left in the county now,” Chen said.
Proposed to be built into the lush meadows and hills will be an amphitheater, large playground, classes and even a storm-water management system.
The large park will still include a campground with 91 campsites, 25 miles of natural surface trails and an 18-hole golf course. The many historic sites, including the Hyattstown Mill and the one-room Kingsley Schoolhouse, also will remain.
However, a 65-acre section near Route 355 will be the site of the proposed upgrades. Many of these changes were first proposed in 2011. But for financial reasons, the plans kept being pushed back, Chen said.
“Finally, we are getting started,” she said, noting that the current design phase is expected to last two to three years.
Actual work on the site is “four or five years ahead. We are not going to be doing construction for four to five years,” she said.
Numerous design sketches have been proposed and currently are being worked on, Chen said.
According to the proposed plans, a multipurpose classroom will be built into a hill so drivers coming to the regional park will not even see it unless they walk towards it.
Materials for the playground playscape will be a combination of natural materials from the park and man-made materials. Expected to be included are a play tower, tunnel, lots of slides and places to jump.
“We want to incorporate it with the topography. We want to work with the topography and the background,” Chen said.
That way, when children are playing, they will also get to know their natural surroundings, she said.
“The idea is to invite people into nature.”
The proposed storm-water management system will consist of numerous circular areas. Sycamore trees, in a design that Chen referred to as a “sycamoreen,” combining the words “sycamore” and “marine,” will surround each ring of water. Sycamore trees naturally grow in wet areas, she noted.
Upgrades that are expected to be included are a new visitors welcome and nature center, group picnic areas, a group campfire ring, outdoor classrooms, amphitheater, landscaped gardens and trails.
Some of the hiking areas will be natural. Others will be made to resemble a boardwalk.
There also will be ecologically-created sound barriers. What won’t be included are any ball fields.
“It is still abstract. We are working on it,” Chen said of the project. “The master plan big idea is any developer in this area should emphasize the park’s natural features and beauty.”
About 67,000 people visited this park last year.
While there, hikers going through the wetland area on the Western Piedmont Trail might have seen eastern bluebirds and timberdoodles, which are American woodcocks. The area can be explored by foot, horseback or mountain bike.