Fort Detrick’s Old Farm Gate, located near the Food Lion on Yellow Springs Road, will close indefinitely starting Oct. 1, the U.S. Army Garrison announced in a Facebook post last week.
Closing the gate was one of many difficult decisions that garrison and U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command leaders have had to make as the 2021 fiscal year comes to an end, garrison spokeswoman Lanessa Hill wrote in an email to The Frederick News-Post. The Army’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year is $173 billion, $3.6 billion less than the previous fiscal year, Hill wrote.
“With the resources provided, Army leaders made deliberate decisions to fund the highest priority requirements supporting people initiatives, readiness goals and modernization efforts,” she wrote. “Here at Fort Detrick we had to do the best we could with what we have and still focus on Army priorities.”
Nallin Farm Gate, located off of Opossumtown Pike, will remain open 24/7, including on holidays. Starting Oct. 1, Veteran’s Gate will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends. It will be closed on holidays.
The decision to extend the hours of Veteran’s Gate was made because more cars enter Fort Detrick from this gate than the other two combined, even with its limited hours, Hill wrote. Veteran’s Gate also allows for the queuing of more incoming vehicles than Old Farm Gate, Hill added, which allows the base to better manage traffic that could potentially back up onto streets outside the gates during peak traffic hours.
On Facebook, many posted critical comments on the garrison’s gate closure announcement. Some pointed out that Old Farm Gate is the one located the closest to family housing on the base and the one many parents use to take their children to school. Others worried the decision to close the gate, coupled with the decision to extend the hours at Veteran’s Gate, will worsen traffic patterns along Seventh Street, a two-lane roadway where the speed limit is 25 mph.
Samantha and Jeremy Balzan have lived on Fort Detrick for about four years. Considering Old Farm Gate’s close proximity to their house, it’s the entrance they use the most — and the one their children’s school bus currently uses to take them to the nearby Whittier Elementary School.
After the gate closes, the Balzans will have to drive across the base to use the Veteran’s or Nallin Farm entrances. It will be especially frustrating for people who live on the base and want to visit the shopping plaza across the street from Old Farm Gate, the Balzans said, and for Samantha Balzan when she has to drive to her children’s school, which is located less than 2 miles away from the Food Lion.
“It’s just a lot of detouring and unnecessary inconveniences,” Samantha Balzan said, later adding, “Everybody we know here uses that gate. Everybody.”
The Balzans’ children will also have to start crossing the street to catch the bus, which will be coming from the opposite direction it is now. They’ll have to wait on an unfinished sidewalk or in parking spots in front of a nearby stop sign. The couple worries the change will add 15 to 30 minutes to their children’s bus route.
“My children would normally get home around 4 o’clock. They’re probably now coming home around 4:30 or later,” Samantha said. That’s a very long day for them, she said, especially considering one is a kindergartner and the other is a first grader. They’ll also have to be wearing masks the whole time, she and her husband added.
Fort Detrick’s child and youth services liaison officer is working with the county’s public school system to reroute buses that previously used the Old Farm Gate and to address any concerns they may have, Hill wrote.
She added that the Emergency Operations Division on the base was fully consulted during the decision-making process to close the gate. The division has the ability and emergency management plans in place to open Old Farm Gate in case of emergency or evacuation, she wrote.
To account for budget restraints in the upcoming fiscal year, Fort Detrick is also streamlining its contracting process, only opening its outdoor pool on weekends and federal holidays, revising its landscaping and grass-cutting services and reducing janitorial services, Hill wrote.