MOUNT AIRY — Exchanging trains for trekkers, town officials hope to develop a hiker-biker trail from the center of town to the Patapsco River.
The two-mile path would be laid out in two phases.
In the first, the 3,000-foot B & O spur that runs from the centerof town to Watkins Park would be renovated as a multipurpose trail. Organizers then hope to continue down the right of way, adding a trail section just over a mile long from the park to the Patapsco.
"The project's been in the dream stage for about a year," Mayor Gerald R. Johnson said. "We contacted the property owners about two or three months ago."
Town officials must decide whether to lease the land,buy it or ask property owners to donate it for the project.
"The property was bought by different owners when the railroad abandoned it," said Teresa Bamberger, town planner. "It's down a very deep ravine and unusable, as far as the property owners go. The town could clean it up, use it and take it off the residents' tax rolls."
During cleanup, scheduled for Nov. 16-17, volunteers will remove sediment and debris that has fallen down the ravine by the tracks in the first section.
"Over the years, people have just dropped stuff off in railway areas," Bamberger said. "There's been some construction debris dumped and some erosion happening in steep areas that's accumulated atthe bottom. It's not an overwhelming amount, but it will require some effort."
Bamberger said the second part of the trail would require less work, because the rails have been replaced by a gravel road.
"The section from Watkins to the Patapsco is in good shape since it's being maintained as an access to the sewer treatment plant," she said.
Specific plans, such as designing trails and providing police protection, are still in the works, Bamberger said.
"We're in the very early stages of planning and incorporating it into the master plan," she said. "Putting it on the master plan makes sure it's on the books and nothing happens to prevent it."
Cost figures have not been obtained, nor are town officials sure how they will pay for the project.
"Phase I is just to get it cleaned up, and then we'll turn it over to Teresa for her to be creative with it," Johnson said.
Although concerns have been raised about safety along the trail and possible thefts, the steepness of the ravine should prevent burglaries of the homes along the path, Bamberger said.
"It would be very difficult to get up there to break into a house," she said. "The person would probably end up breaking his neck. You couldn't carry a TV down it."
The trail's safety is usually ensured by the number and type of people using it, Bamberger said.
"People who live along a trail are often apprehensive at first, wondering who might be coming into the neighborhood," she said. "But in every case, they become very popular. People who use them tend to be upstanding citizens."
To spark interest in the trail, town officials are writing a pamphlet on the railroad's history to give to hikers. A state-proposed trail fromSykesville to the town might attract tourists, they add.
But planners expect residents to get the most use of the trail.
"The firstsection will be great for people who live here," Bamberger said. "They perceive Watkins Park as being far removed from the town, since you have to take Route 27 to get there. But when you take this direct shot, it's not more than a five-minute walk."