ANNAPOLIS -- Anne Arundel County's much heralded Quiet Waters Park will officially welcome the public for the first time Monday, but members of the community have been venturing in, welcome or not, for more than two years.

The 336-acre park, just outside Annapolis and bordering Harness Creek and the South River, combines quiet natural settings with an urban park that has a Victorian theme. The park sports an ice rink, boat rentals, playgrounds, a formal garden and picnic areas.

"It's the most spectacular park of its kind I've ever seen," said County Executive James Lighthizer. "We spent $18 million. There's 14,000 feet of waterfront. It overlooks the bay and the riverfront . . . . There's tremendous architecture . . . . It's a Victorian theme park . . . . And the architecture is pretty accurate. There are six pavilions, an ice rink. It's just neat."

Nonethless, local residents have been wary about the facility and have been monitoring the park's development at every stage, making objections and proposing solutions. They worked with the park's construction crew to minimize environmental damage and traffic problems. They kept close watch over progress and freely voiced concerns regarding water quality, location of playgrounds, plant and animal life, and any other potential problem.

In fact, "Quiet Waters" is something of a misnomer for what Lighthizer said has been "the most difficult political fight in my life."

The parcel had been part of a farm called Quiet Waters. When the county took control of the land to keep it from a real estate developer in 1987, the residents were delighted. However, when Lighthizer announced his plans for the area, he was met by anger and resistance. The main source of contention was a proposed 1.5-acre outdoor amphitheater that would accommodate 1,500 people.

"I think people got the wrong idea," said Jay Cuccia, assistant to the director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "They thought we were trying to do a Merriweather Post Pavilion," a reference to the music park in Columbia that is frequently criticized by community groups for loud concerts.

"There was a lot of hostility about how it was presented initially. It was preented as a fait accompli," said Teresa Dowd, a resident who voiced objections to some of the plans.

As a result of the unrest, the Quiet Waters Study Committee was formed to oversee creation of the park. The 20-member committee was composed mainly of residents, including Dowd, who were appointed by Lighthizer. The amphitheater became a minor issue, Dowd said. It has been put on hold, at least for now, but there are two potential sites for future development.

The committee focused instead primarily on environmental issues. The members determined what plants were indigenous to the area, because they only wanted native species to be planted. They learned the habitats of the wildlife and made sure that trees in which animals were nesting were not torn down. For example, said Dowd, the park contains "one of the oldest communities and one of the most extensive communities of club moss in the state."

The commitee members marked important species so that the paved trail wouldn't interfere with them.

The committee met with the construction crew every two weeks, and Dowd said they had "complete cooperation" from both the Department of Parks and Recreation and from the construction company.

Mike Phennicie, project manager for the construction company, said, "We took a situation that potentially could have been very destructive, and we turned it around."

Phennicie and his team developed environmental and public relations programs. They met with the committee and put out a monthly newsletter for 700 readers that detailed the progress schedule, environmental effects of the development and results of environmental inspection. The construction team also gave tours once a month to anyone who wanted to come. Phennicie estimates that of the 50 to 100 people on those tours, more than 99 percent were happy with the work.

"It did slow us down. To go that extra step that the committee wanted us to go, it cost us time and cost us money," acknowledged Phennicie.

"But it got the park here," said Kurt Engelberth, the resident engineer.

Today, there appears to be satisfaction from all corners. "It will be the best park {in the area}. It's really nice," Dowd said. "There are almost seven miles of bike trail. And it was done in a very environmental way."

All of the areas in the park are accessible to the disabled, and there are special facilities on the playgrounds for disabled children.

The park has a parking fee of $3 for vehicles with county tags and $6 for those from outside Arundel. People who walk in or come by bike are admitted free.

Dowd, Phennicie and Lighthizer are scheduled to speak at the opening ceremonies Monday, along with County Council member Maureen Lamb.

In addition, opening day festivities will include Victorian children's games, Victorian music, and costumed figures, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Mary Cassatt and Mark Twain, who will greet park visitors. A trolley will give tours and in the evening, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform -- on a temporary stage.

Such frenetic activity won't be a regular feature of Quiet Waters Park, however. Except for special events, the community will get what it seemed to want: a quiet park without a lot of structured activities. Said Cuccia, "We wanted it to be a place for people to relax and enjoy nature, peacefulness."

Quiet Waters may live up to its name after all.