Carousel con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues to go round and round

Wood carvers group strug­gles to find a lo­ca­tion in La Plata

Maryland Independent - - News - By CHAR­LIE WRIGHT cwright@somd­news.com

The South­ern Mary­land Carousel Group met with the La Plata Town Coun­cil on Tues­day to dis­cuss po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions for its carousel project, a 13year en­deavor that has strug­gled to gain trac­tion de­spite am­ple fundrais­ing and com­mu­nity sup­port.

The group, a branch of the South­ern Mary­land Wood Carvers or­ga­ni­za­tion, has tried for more than a decade to bring a carousel to Charles County, along with a mu­seum, learn­ing cen­ter and party room. Led by Pres­i­dent Burkey Boggs and Vice Pres­i­dent Melvin Wil­liams, the group has raised more than $200,000 and re­ceived three state bond bills worth a to­tal of $355,000.

The project has been mod­eled af­ter the carousel for­merly re­sid­ing in Mar­shall Hall, and Boggs’ team has even been able to re­cover pieces from that struc­ture, which was around un­til the early 1970s. The group has carved 52 an­i­mals, a pair of char­i­ots and 18 round­ing boards for the carousel, as well as his­tor­i­cal faces and hu­man fig­urines. Boggs en­vi­sions the site as a large tourist des­ti­na­tion, at­tract­ing guests through carousel rides, wood­work­ing classes and a gift shop.

“I think it would be great for the town, it would re­ally draw peo­ple,” Boggs said. “Once you start draw­ing peo­ple to some­thing like that, restau­rants and every­thing else blos­som.”

The carousel pieces have been ready since 2012, leav­ing the plat­form and the in­door fa­cil­ity as the re­main­ing con­struc­tion needs. “We’ve done the easy part,” Boggs said. Es­ti­mates for the cost of the plat­form range from $240,000 to $300,000, but the most chal­leng­ing ob­sta­cle has been find­ing a suit­able lo­ca­tion.

In 2006, the group was awarded a grant to build on Lau­rel Springs Park by the Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers, but the grant was re­scinded and given to the Greater Wal­dorf Jaycees. They then looked into build­ing at a to­bacco barn in Hugh­esville, but the land was too ex­pen­sive. Next came a po­ten­tial part­ner­ship with the South­ern Mary­land Blue Crabs or­ga­ni­za­tion, but ne­go­ti­a­tions for a carousel at the sta­dium stalled.

Most re­cently, the group signed a lease for prop­erty at Wills Park, only to dis­cover the land is en­cum­bered by the Fed­eral Land and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Fund fi­nanc­ing and re­stricted to out­door re­cre­ation. The Town of La Plata, un­aware of this con­di­tion when it en­tered into the lease agree­ment with the carousel group, had to uti­lize the no­tice pro­vi­sions in the doc­u­men­ta­tion to end the lease, ac­cord­ing to Town Man­ager Daniel Mears.

Now the group is left to con­tinue fundrais­ing and gen­er­at­ing en­thu­si­asm in the com­mu­nity for a project with­out a lo­cale for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to be more will­ing to give if they know we have a home,” said the group’s web­mas­ter Eve­lyn Lawrence.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the mat­ter are the trio of state bond bills ap­proved by the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly. The group has re­ceived bills of $25,000, $150,000 and $180,000 to go to­ward its project, but re­cip­i­ents are ex­pected to match bond fund­ing. Boggs ex­plained they could equal the two lesser grants through their fundrais­ing ef­forts, but needed to use the value of the land lease ($227,000) to match the larger bill. The bonds must be used within seven years or they sun­set, putting a sig­nif­i­cant time crunch on what has al­ready been a slug­gish process.

The coun­cil was will­ing to as­sist in find­ing an­other lo­ca­tion, but both sides were un­able to reach any con­clu­sions. Boggs’ sug­ges­tion of the area be­hind the Coca-Cola Com­pany was shot down by Mears and Mayor Jea­nine James due to other town plans for that prop­erty — al­though none were spec­i­fied. James was con­cerned with find­ing a place that could not only house the carousel but also at­tract vis­i­tors and up­lift sur­round­ing busi­nesses.

“It will be a des­ti­na­tion, peo­ple will come there but ini­tially it has to be vis­i­ble,” James said. “If you stick it out there at Wills Park, you don’t have the vis­i­bil­ity. It should be in an area where there is more to do.”

The coun­cil mem­bers plan to re­visit the sit­u­a­tion af­ter re­search­ing and re­view­ing the de­tails of the project.

“Once we get some more in­for­ma­tion, we’ll all start look­ing and think­ing and see what we can do,” James said.

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