Is it still “open space” if the grass on the ground is plastic?

In Maryland, state officials say yes. They’re planning to spend at least $7 million in tax funds from Program Open Space, a pool of money intended to preserve and develop parkland, to carpet 14 playing fields in Howard and Anne Arundel counties with artificial turf.

Local leaders say that the turf fields are a legitimate use of the money and that they will make parks safer for athletes and easier to maintain.

But the plan leaves the state in an unusual position. Money earmarked for the outdoors is being spent to replace something living with something made in a factory.

“It’s sort of a no-brainer. You’re replacing . . . an urban vegetation surface with something man-made,” said Stuart Gaffin, a researcher at Columbia University who has looked into the environmental impact of synthetic turf. “It’ll never be environmentally benign.”

The open space program, which is run by the state Department of Natural Resources, is funded from a pool created by a 0.5 percent tax on real-estate transfers. The money is divided between preserving pristine land and upgrading the recreational facilities and other features of public parks. According to the department, the program has helped protect more than 275,000 acres since it began in 1969.

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