Invitation to a Meeting
The Friends of Little Bennett (FOLB) is holding a meeting at 7pm on March 27 open to the anyone who would like to consider becoming active volunteer in our group.
So we can properly plan for this meeting, THIS IS AN RSVP EVENT! IF YOU PLAN TO COME, PLEASE E-MAIL US and include in your email any potential volunteer areas that you might like to know more about. We are well aware that wanting to know more about something is not the same thing as wanting to do something. In other words, just because you come to learn more about what our group does not mean that you are committing any of your time to anything.
Below is a list of some of the possible areas that FOLB volunteers have worked in the past as well as other areas that we are always interested in hearing about from folks who might want to start something new. Please try to refer to topics of potential interest from this list if you RSVP.
Each RSVP will be provided with additional information about the location of our meeting. Hope to see you on March 27,
The History of Little Bennett Regional Park
By Cultural Resources Stewardship Section
Park Planning and Stewardship Division
Montgomery County Parks Department
The anatomy of Little Bennett Regional Park (LBRP) and its niche in the Montgomery County park system have been the object of a lengthy public debate. From the very beginning, County park planners faced conflicting choices – protection of the environment vs. promotion of recreational opportunities, raising revenue vs. free access, retention of a primitive pastoral state vs. adoption of all the bells and whistles to create a truly luxury get away.
With the post-war boom in the Washington, D.C. metro area, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) recognized that the rural integrity of Montgomery County was threatened by the growth of suburbia. Planners wanted to design escapes from the increasingly urban atmosphere of down county. So in 1962, the Commission purchased land to establish 4 new regional parks including Black Hill, Damascus, Dickerson, and Little Bennett. With large acreage, open space could accommodate those areas that are “partially developed, providing space for active adult recreation such as hiking, riding, baseball, as well as quieter spots for picnics or just sitting.”
LBRP’s First Master Plan: A Lake, A Lodge, and Admission…
In 1966 M-NCPPC drafted a plan for Little Bennett that emphasized the protection of the natural environment as “its location, beyond the last ring of suburban growth, is ideal in that preservation of land at this time is relatively inexpensive, and protection of open space in this location can only become increasingly important in planning for further suburban growth in western Montgomery County in the future.”
But due to its size, it was also felt that Little Bennett could support a variety of recreational opportunities, including golf, equestrian pursuits, winter sports, and camping. Early plans also called for damming Little Bennett creek to create a 260-acre lake.
In their attempt to make Little Bennett Regional Park a destination, planners even proposed the construction of a 135,250 square foot, 200-room Lodge/Conference Center. A consultant on the project suggested that the proposed Lodge/Conference Center would have a vital role in the economic sustainability of the Park.
To supplement potential revenue from the Lodge/Conference Center, it was proposed that patrons visiting Little Bennett by auto be charged $3 per car—though walk-in visitors would be excluded from the fee.
…But Limit ‘Congestion, Litter, Confusion
Somewhat offsetting the grand development ideas for Little Bennett, two-thirds of the land was to be held in conservation and undeveloped‒as has become standard with all County regional parks. Planners felt that abundant acreage should not encourage overdevelopment, and they wanted to avoid the creation of an amusement park-like setting in Little Bennett. Montgomery County park planners suggested that all “commercial-type concessions should be kept outside of the park.” Parks staff concluded that overdeveloping LBRP would create “congestion, litter, and confusion.”
Confronted with these conflicting visions for the Park, James Gilman, a consultant with HOK Associates, observed that, “It is our contention that the park cannot be all things to all people, and the critical decision is going to have to be a choice among the compatible elements of the market to which the development of Little Bennett Regional Park can be more responsive.”
Moreover, local constituents valued their agrarian heritage and wanted to protect and promote that story within this new park. Opportunities for historic restoration included the Perry Browning (Smith House), one of the oldest structures in Montgomery County. M-NCPPC historian Mike Dwyer promoted making the another historic Little Bennett building – the Hyattstown Mill – the Park’s new Visitor Center. Some consideration was also given to restoring Hyattstown, the small community adjacent to the Park’s northwestern corner, as an example of a small agricultural community.
Consultants working on a plan for Little Bennett felt that “the private auto must be kept out of the master plan of the Park, and …. an internal mass transit system (should be)… the principal means of transportation.” Cars would be parked at external lots, and patrons would be moved about by either a tractor or horse-pulled wagon or even a miniature railroad.
Thus trails would be a necessary means for internal movement through the Park. Plans called for a series of theme-oriented trails ranging from those designed to interest nature seekers to those driven to challenge visitors’ physical endurance to a loop trail around the proposed lake that would incorporate “a dozen or more restored or recreated attractions.”
Protecting the Park’s Environment Wins Out
In the end, the most expensive and hotly debated Park amenities such as the proposed lake and lodge/conference center complex were never developed in Little Bennett. Ultimately these projects were not pursued because the desire to protect the natural environment of the Park outweighed the desire and cost to put large development projects in it.
In 1985 a new Master Plan for Little Bennett was published. It promoted less expensive amenities such as a group campground, a swim facility, a day use facility, a visitor center, an outdoor education area, and a golf course complex which ultimately did get built and opened in 1994.
As Clarksburg Grows, a New Master Plan Is Adopted
Then, when the historic little community of Clarksburg that borders Little Bennett began to undergo extensive development, M-NCPPC began to take another look at the Park and published a new master plan for the Park in 2007. One of the major recommendations in the Plan was to create a day use area off of MD 355. The day use area would welcome visitors and introduce them to the many natural and cultural interpretive opportunities in the Park. The proposed day use area would provide a welcoming entrance into the park that respects the natural terrain and preserves vistas of the natural landscape. Facility plans have been developed for the area.
Another area that received attention in the 2007 Master Plan was historic and cultural interpretation. The plan “propose[d] an overarching interpretive theme of life in Montgomery County’s Piedmont, and its influence on the culture and ecology of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” To help implement this Plan objective, M-NCPPC is developing a series of engaging and informative signs along the Park’s trails.
The 2007 Master Plan also observed that Park visitors traveling along Frederick and Clarksburg Roads got the impression of “rural residential instead of parkland.” Thus, the Plan promoted the removal of park structures not deemed “historic” along these roads – though every removed building is receiving extensive archival research.
“Development Should Emphasize Natural Features”
Just as HOK Associates proposed in 1973, LBRP is a special place where creative planning resulted in “a park in which natural and manmade elements are in harmony with each other; a park which will be a credit to the citizens of Montgomery County.”
Both the 1985 and 2007 master plans for Little Bennett sum up M-NCPPC’s perspective that: “Development at Little Bennett should emphasize the park’s natural features, beauty and tranquil environment while at the same time providing Montgomery County residents with a variety of recreation experiences oriented to this unique outdoor setting.”
Posted October 12, 2011