The murder of Moneta Jo Strickland this month along Three Notch Trail near John V. Baggett Park in Laurel Grove will not stop plans to expand the trail, St. Mary’s County commissioners said this week, but security upgrades should be made.
“The age of innocence is over,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) Monday, who called Strickland’s death “a horrible situation. It’s horrible and it’s tragic.” He said he was grateful a security camera system at a nearby business helped lead to the arrest of a suspect in the case.
Jarboe said St. Mary’s County government should look into installing security cameras for the parking lots that access Three Notch Trail at Baggett Park, the Charlotte Hall library, the Northern Senior Activity Center and at the Gospel Light Church.
“We’ve talked about that before,” said Commissioner Todd Morgan (R). “I would have no objection, none whatsoever” to installing cameras at parking lots that serve the hiking and biking trail.
The Three Notch Trail exists in two disconnected sections so far. There is a 3-mile section from New Market to just past the county line, and another 3-mile section from Laurel Grove to Mechanicsville.
The next 5-mile section through Mechanicsville would link the two sections of the trail to create an 11-mile path. Plans call for the trail to eventually extend south to Gate 1 of Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The design is almost complete for the Mechanicsville section, said Brian Loewe, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation and Parks. Budgeted at $2.87 million in state and local dollars, work is estimated to start in April 2014 and should last about a year.
“We’re going to take a look to try to do whatever we can to enhance safety along this [existing] stretch,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D). “You’ve got to adjust to the times.”
“We’ll certainly look into any avenues that are available to increase the safety of all of our parks,” Loewe said. As for installing cameras, “that’s something we would have to research,” he said, as to where the funding would come from.
“This goes so far beyond politics,” Jarboe said. “Everyone’s united. This is just a tragic, tragic situation. I don’t think anyone would have conceived a local person would have done this kind of harm.”
John Morris Quade Jr., 31, of Lexington Park was arrested last week on charges including first-degree murder.
Before the homicide, “the largest complaint I heard about the trail in the past was horse manure,” Jarboe said, and other minor problems. The trail is also used by horse-and-buggy traffic in northern St. Mary’s.
Now, “I’m advising people, especially women, to travel with a partner,” he said.
“You always have to think safety first,” Morgan said.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” Loewe said. “Walk in groups or pairs. If something doesn’t seem right, contact the sheriff’s office. Most people are walking in pairs. If you can do that — that’s optimal,” he said.
While the department doesn’t track the number of users of Three Notch Trail, he said, “It’s a very popular trail and well used by the citizens.”