Trail blazer charts paths less traveled Ex-teacher's hobby is a walk in the woods

February 20, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

Theodore P. Brower, carrying clipboard, orange engineer tape, plastic-enclosed map and compass, climbs the trail on the ridge off Pleasantville Road in Gunpowder State Park. The wind blows cold and colder. Snowflakes collect on his blue all-weather coat and brown leather cap.

On another day, Ted Brower, wielding a bow saw, clears a "blow-down" tree section that has fallen across a trail near the Little Gunpowder Falls below Jerusalem Road.

On yet another day, he stands at the dining room table in the warmth of his Kingsville home. Mr. Brower looks down on section maps pieced together into a large one of the wild valley of the Little Gunpowder.

All these things go to the same end. Ted Brower, 53 years old, scouts, maps, marks, blazes and helps maintain the trails along the Little Gunpowder.

"We have almost a complete trail from the Kingsville athletic fields to Pleasantville Road, about 10 1/4 miles," he says.

A Baltimore County schools art teacher for 28 1/2 years until he retired in December 1991 because of a stress-related heart ailment, Mr. Brower is a volunteer. His rewards for doing this are intrinsic, not financial.

"I've always been interested in trails," he says. "Our backyard is Gunpowder State Park. Since we moved here 24 years ago, I've been hiking all around. Then, about three years ago, I found out about the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy."

He now heads the trails committee for the non-profit 350-member organization.

If a park ranger gives the go-ahead on a trail route, Mr. Brower will "blaze" it. Blazing involves marking trails with small rectangles of paint so hikers can follow them.

The ideal trail is cleared 4 feet wide and 7 to 8 feet high with a "tread way" of 18 to 24 inches, he says. "All main trails are blazed white and all return trails and loops are blazed blue. I do all the blazing."

A blaze is 2 inches wide and 6 inches long, about 6 feet high on a tree, "placed as far apart as they need to be" based on the terrain. He uses "exterior grade oil-based paint" which he says does not harm the tree. Some blazes are offset in pairs to point out a turn in the trail.

"When I got on the trails committee, the other members didn't know much about blazing trails," Mr. Brower says. "I'd worked on parts of the Mason-Dixon Trail [in Pennsylvania and Maryland]. I got enough knowledge there to help start our committee off.

"Frank Zelenka, a science teacher at Parkville High, is my right-hand man. Frank hates meetings and he hates paperwork but he shows up for all the work hikes."

Mr. Zelenka, 49, arrives about 10 minutes late for the Pleasantville Road work hike but quickly leads the way up the trail, turning off onto a flat area just below the crest of the ridge, laying dead branches perpendicular to the slope as he goes. "Slowing the flow of the water downhill stops erosion," he says. Mr. Brower attaches engineer tape strips to branches to mark the way.

A half-mile in, quiet rules. Sounds of boots crunching on snowy leaves ring with clarity. Other noises become magnified, but because they are natural do not seem intrusive: two dogs on the run barking, honking geese flying in V-formations toward the bay, two deer, white tails raised, fleeing human intruders.

"Look at all these tracks," Mr. Zelenka says at a small stream, snow dangling from his beard. "This must have been the deer tollbooth."

This trek is the first step in the trail-marking process, and winter is the best time for it. With leaves off the trees, the light comes through stronger and sightlines are improved. Today, the snow makes the main trail and the deer trails clearer, picking up dips and worn areas. The park favors using existing trails, old roads and deer trails wherever possible to reduce environmental impact.

Mr. Brower and Mr. Zelenka walk the woods for more than four hours, scouting, marking, trying alternatives to a main trail, possible "loops" for shorter hikes and a return trail.

They stand on outcroppings of rock that look down on the Little Gunpowder, traverse valleys crisscrossed with twisting jumpable streams, cross a wide gully that Mr. Brower says was created by 200 years of erosion. They climb through a grove of arrow-straight tulip poplar trees "a couple of hundred years old," pass a big beech tree that has "Bill Hiltz 10-20-62" carved into the bark, stare down a hill at an abandoned school bus, engine missing and windows bashed out, sitting on the edge of a clearing.

At hike's end, Mr. Brower puts away his map and compass in a green L. L. Bean bag. "Maybe all of this will be for nothing, if the park doesn't approve it," he says.

Other hikes will be needed to define the trail more precisely before a park ranger is taken out to view it.

"Many suburbanites are afraid of the woods and hesitant about using a trail," he says. "But if it has markings, there's more willingness to try."

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