This ‘Merriground’ hopes to get you to come out to Columbia, Md.

A Columbia, Md., nonprofit group looking to remake a downtown park adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion continues to float new ideas, adding musical gateways and a play area it has dubbed the “Merriground.”

The Inner Arbor Trust plans to formally present its ideas to a Howard County government design panel on Feb. 26, the first step in a process that organizers hope will allow construction to begin in the fall. The group aims to turn the largely undeveloped Symphony Woods into the kind of destination that might draw people to the suburban community between Washington and Baltimore and allow it to compete with the plethora of new town centers popping up around the region. They call the refashioned urban/suburban oasis Merriweather Park, and hope it will be a centerpiece of downtown Columbia’s own planned redevelopment .


The Merriground would include an observation tower, slides and other features. It would be located near a network of wooden pathways known as the lilypads. (Rendering courtesy of the Inner Arbor Trust).

Work on the new park could take as long as five to seven years, depending on the pace of fundraising. The trust recently had its application to be a 501(c)3 charity approved by the Internal Revenue Service, which will allow it to pursue grants and donations. The group already has received some seed money from the Columbia Association, Columbia’s property owners’ association, and the Howard County government, but will require much more capital to make its vision a reality. Organizers estimate the project could cost more than $30 million.

Earlier, the trust described plans for a “chrysalis” amphitheater, “butterfly” concession area, and a landscaped “caterpillar” tube to act as a fence between the park and Merriweather.  Now it is proposing to add a souped-up “Merriground” play area to replace a previous plan for an outdoor maze, as well as a series of acoustic elements at four entrances to the park to entice visitors to explore. The so-called Merriweather Horns might even be synchronized to provide a collective chime once a day.

“They could sound at 6 p.m. and call an end to the work day and prepare you for something new,” said Michael McCall, president and chief executive of the Inner Arbor Trust.


The new musical elements would be strategically located at the entrances to Merriweather Park. (Map courtesy of Inner Arbor Trust)

The musical gateways are the creation of Maryland artist William Cochran, who grew up in nearby Clarksville and worked at Merriweather as a teenager. Cochran is the artist behind the Community Bridge in Frederick, and he is working on a series of 16-foot tall sculptural paintings for a paseo in Bethesda, and a 30-foot glass tower titled “Wingspire” in Silver Spring.

Here’s a look at some of Cochran’s concepts for Merriweather Park:


These “Song Cycles” can be activated by visitors who sit in their special seats and pedal. The faster they pedal, the more sound they make. (Rendering courtesy of Inner Arbor Trust)

McCall said the new musical elements are intended to represent the “art of arrival.”

“We really want to set the tone up front,” he said.

Hopefully, he meant that as a pun.


Organizers say the array of tall “Land Horns” will produce a low, rumbling melody that people should feel in their feet. (Rendering courtesy of Inn Arbor Trust)

McCall quickly dismisses the idea that the new acoustic elements might create a kind of Disney-esque Muzak: “It’s not like this will be an ‘It’s a Small World’ exhibit where there’s this song you can’t escape.

“We’re not trying to cause acoustic cacophony.”


A grouping of 250 “Tone Reeds” are designed to produce a chiming sound “similar to dozens of tuned, high-quality wind chimes.” (Rendering courtesy of Inner Arbor Trust)

The “Skyhorns” are a cluster of 12 straight horns whose “signature soundscape” is a “quiet huming, sometimes a solo voice, and sometimes multiple voices in harmony.” (Rendering courtesy of Inner Arbor Trust)

McCall praised Cochran’s work for creating music-making objects that seem “almost botanical.”


Throughout Merriweather Park, organizers hope to place acoustic “Pathfinders” at intersections of walkways. (Rendering courtesy of Inner Arbor Trust).
Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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