The felling of four trees in John McLaren Park this week caused suspicion among watchful parks activists who thought the location of the trees, near the site of a recently proposed rope course, was too much of a coincidence.
In a Facebook post, Tom Borden, a McLaren Park advocate, shared pictures of the downed trees and what appears to be the outline of a propose ropes course to a McLaren Park Facebook group, arousing outrage from some park users.
“At the July 18 McLaren Park Collaborative meeting last week, we heard that [Recreation and Parks Department] was considering a deal with Outward Bound to install a ropes course in the park near Wilde Tower,” Borden wrote. “Well, apparently [RPD staff] have already signed the deal.”
Asked about Borden’s post, the Recreation and Parks Department said in a statement that the city’s Urban Forestry department removed the four dead or dying trees after they were identified as “hazardous to the public.”
“The tree removal had nothing to do with the [proposed ropes course],” RPD stated.
The city must post a 30-day notice informing the public of plans to cut down a tree, however no notice needs to be posted if the tree is determined to be a danger to the public, according to the city’s Urban Forestry Ordinance.
Borden suspects the trees were removed in order to clear the site for the ropes course without following proper outreach procedures. Borden and other activists raised similar concerns about the department’s outreach when RPD allowed a company to rent horses in the park for two months last year.
Steven Currier, a District 11 representative on the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee, called RPD’s statement about the trees a “bald-faced lie,” noting that Borden or another Collaborative member would have noticed if the trees were dying or a danger to park goers.
“I want someone to talk to [PROSAC] about this,” Currier said. “You can’t just cut down trees willy nilly.”
RPD stated that it is just beginning its public outreach process for the Outward Bound project.
“The Outward Bound project has not been approved and no contract has been signed by anyone. We are still exploring the idea and discussing this as a project,” RPD stated.
If approved, the project will be paid for by Outward Bound, according to RPD.
Although Borden doesn’t oppose the idea of the course, he is concerned about who the course will serve and how often it will be open to the public.
“At the [July] Collaborative meeting, we were told Outward Bound planned to hold corporate team building events at the site,” Borden wrote in an email. “Obviously, this would be a huge fundraising source for [RPD] given all the well financed tech companies in town.”
Although plans for the McLaren Park ropes course have not been released yet, Outward Bound unveiled a similar course in Baltimore’s Leakin Park last year. The Baltimore course, which features a rope bridge and zipline, is available to rent for $500 per day.
“The programming [at the proposed McLaren Park course] is toward school-age children through Outward Bound, and would also include opportunities for neighbors to use the course free of charge,” RPD stated.
RPD will present a proposed design for the ropes course at the McLaren Collaborative’s Sept.18 meeting.