MOUNT AIRY — A dozen volunteers took the first step in turning an abandoned, trash-strewn and unkempt two-mile railroad bed into a hiker-biker path.
Dubbed the "Rails to Trails" project, an effort to reclaim a stretch of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad right of way from the Patapsco Riverto the center of town has been talked about for more than a year.
But Saturday, the first two Dumpster loads of trash and debris were removed from a portion of the right of way between Watkins Park and Main Street.
"At this point, things are fairly basic," said townplanner Teresa Bamberger. "We are beginning to look at funding to see how far we can go."
Bamberger and three members of the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed progress on the project with Mayor Gerald R. Johnson during a three-hour master plan workshop Monday night. The town's Parks and Recreation Committee meets tomorrow night to discuss Rails to Trails.
Finding money -- in a state barely able tomeet day-to-day expenses -- will be difficult, Bamberger and Johnsonsaid.
"How the trail ultimately turns out depends a lot on the cost factor," Bamberger said.
So far, about 2,200 feet of the right of way is cleared and ready for a loose gravel base that would cover the railroad tracks. Loose gravel could be the ground cover on all two miles of the path if money remains scarce; the portion from the river to Watkins Park already is mostly cleared of debris and lined withgravel.
The town is negotiating with about seven different landowners. After the railroad abandoned the right of way, several different owners grabbed up the land.
Most of the right of way is steep-sloped and virtually useless to landowners, Bamberger said. Hopefully, property owners would be willing to donate the land to the town, which would lower their property taxes, Bamberger said.
She has not estimated the project's cost, but said acquiring the land and putting in amenities such as fences, landscaping and benches will play into the final price tag of building the trail.
"A lot of how the trail is going to work out depends on whether we can secure funding," she said.
So far, Johnson said the town has been able to rely on a groupof volunteers to make a go of the project. He and Bamberger said that, even if little money is found for the trail, it still could be opened, but without the landscaping and other details.
Using abandoned railroad rights of way for these so-called "linear" parks is becoming more popular, as governments in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and several other localities in southern Pennsylvania turn to this method.