Lighthizer Hits The Trail To Color Maryland Green

October 05, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

County Executive O. James Lighthizer tweaks George Bush to explain his dream/vision for Maryland.

"Out there I see a thousand points of access."

Lighthizer is pushing linear parks, like the B & A Trail, that bring hikers and bikers access to wilderness in metropolitan areas and preserve undeveloped and sensitive threads of nature like stream beds and barrier islands.

Wearing his other hat as the chairman of the governor's Maryland Greenways Commission, he dreams of lacing the entire state with greenways built along old railroad and stream beds, utility rights of way, streams and mountain ridges.

If he were to get his way, which has been known to happen around these parts, the newly completed B & A Trail Park will one day connect with similar trails along the Patuxent, Potomac and Patapsco rivers linking the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore, Washington, the Appalachian Trail and beyond.

But first the now-all-volunteer Greenways Commission must be upgraded from an "initiative" to state-financed "program" status with a budget and full-time staff.

Lighthizer said he wants to pattern it after the state's "Tree-Mendous" tree planting program, which is headed by former Baltimore City Council President Walter Orlinsky.

But he sees the political currents shifting against his dream with tax-revolt movements thriving in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties. Lighthizer said he is afraid his term as county executive may have ended a year too late to begin his campaign for greenways.

"A year ago it seemed like a great idea; the governor was behind it and people were behind it, but now I'm not sure," Lighthizer said.

"With all these anti-government and anti-spending movements in the air, you're going to see a generally hostile legislature to new programs."

Nonetheless, he said he believes the time for greenways has come and hopes it is at least debated in the next legislative session.

During that debate, the legislators will get a first-hand chance to tour what is now considered one of the finest rails-to-trails projects in the country. But staring them in the face during the otherwise-pleasant tour would be the glaring fact that the 14.1-mile path cost the state and county $9.8 million to build and will require another $150,000 a year to maintain.

Last November, the board of directors of the national "Rails to Trails" advocacy group toured the B & A trail, and program director Peter Harnick dubbed it the "premier" railroad conversion project in the country.

Harnick was so impressed he agreed to move his group's 1991 national convention from Seattle to Baltimore to showcase it and other greenways initiatives in the state.

Some of the other parks in the state that represent different kinds of greenways include Rock Creek Park, Montgomery County's green passage to Washington and Virginia; the dry C & O Canal bed; Assateague Island on the Eastern Shore; and of course, the granddaddy greenway of them all, the Appalachian Trail, which passes through Western Maryland across a 38-mile stretch of Washington and Frederick counties.

The 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia, is the closest to being a precedent for the grand-scale greenways project Lighthizer has in mind.

Riding the entire length of the B & A trail for the first time on a mountain bike borrowed from the department of Recreation and Parks, Lighthizer seemed to grow more excited and impatient about realizing his vision for the state.

"It's beautiful. Just like I'd imagined it," he said. "The time to act is now."

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