Carousel conversation continues to go round and round
Wood carvers group struggles to find a location in La Plata
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the group was awarded a grant to build on Laurel Springs Park by the Charles County Commissioners, but the grant was rescinded and given to the Greater Waldorf Jaycees.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.