Imagine climbing onto your bike in York, Pa., and riding all the way to Annapolis on a chain of quiet, protected bike trails, interrupted only by a 23 1/2 -mile air-conditioned ride on a Central Light Rail car through Baltimore's urban congestion.
It's an intriguing vision sketched in a section of a proposed 10-year master plan for the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Baltimore County.
The vision has major gaps: York County, Pa., officials have built only 1 1/2 miles of their planned 22-mile bike trail, and the 20-mile NCR Trail now stops well short of the light rail's northern terminus.
Also, the state is still building a trail at Baltimore-Washington International Airport that would link the light rail's planned BWI station to the 14-mile Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.
But the gaps in the idea are getting serious attention from state officials.
"I couldn't put a definitive time frame on it, but it's a lot closer than a lot of other greenway concepts," said John Wilson, chief of greenways and resource planning for the state Department of Natural Resource's central region.
In time, the state's Greenways Commission hopes to link the Northern Central and B&A trails to others now planned or under development in the Patapsco Valley State Park, Gwynns Falls Park in Baltimore and elsewhere around the state.
Fans and neighbors of the popular NCR Trail in Baltimore County have until Aug. 7 to comment on the state's proposed master plan for their trail, which was developed by DNR and its Trail Advisory Committee.
The master plan deals primarily with proposals to widen, resurface, expand, protect and enrich the Northern Central Trail.
The 28-page document is available at the Cockeysville and Hereford libraries. Comments should be addressed to Neal R. Welch, Tawes State Office Building D-3, Annapolis 21401.
The plan calls for $916,400 in spending over the next 10 years. Among the proposals:
* Widen the trail to 12 feet when the money -- estimated at $350,000 -- becomes available. The older section of the trail, from Ashland to Monkton, deteriorates quickly because it is the most heavily used section and the narrowest, at 10 feet.
The rest of the trail is now 11 1/2 feet wide.
* Resurface the entire trail, at a cost of $200,000. Most of the path would remain a single trail of crushed stone, except for 25-foot paved zones just inside access gates at state and county roads to improve stopping safety.
* Control stream bank erosion near Hunter Mill Road, an estimated $100,000 project.
Among the many other recommendations: installation of 18 signs along the trail to interpret natural and historical features; improved access to the Gunpowder River for canoes and tubes; added toilet and water facilities at key points and redecking and inspection of bridges along the trail.
Parking lots along the trail often overflow on weekends, but the master plan concludes that no major parking lot expansions are needed for now.
Accordingly, the DNR will not encourage more food and beverage sales or bike rental concessions because it would only add to the weekend congestion.
The lower portion of the NCR Trail opened in 1984, one of the first rails-to-trails conversions in the U.S., and it has been a resounding success. It now runs from the Pennsylvania border south through woods, quiet river valleys and a series of historic railroad towns to Ashland, just east of the Hunt Valley Mall.
Last year more than 270,000 people used the trail, which has few busy road crossings, a relatively smooth crushed-stone surface and an easy grade.
York County, Pa., is planning a 22-mile trail from York to the Maryland border at the historic Mason-Dixon Line.
The trail will follow one of two parallel rail beds. The second bed still carries infrequent freight trains at 12 to 15 mph.
Mike Fobes, facilities manager for the York County Parks Department, said the first 1 1/2 miles of bike trail north from the Maryland line will be finished in September.
Construction on the next 10-mile stretch could begin as early as this October, with completion by late fall 1994, he said.
It will be paid for with a $399,000 federal grant and $100,000 in local donations.
The final 10 miles into York may not be completed for 3 to 4 years. "There are a lot of bridges and it will be a lot more expensive," Mr. Fobes said.
From the Mason-Dixon Line, southbound cyclists can now ride the NCR Trail to Ashland, east of the Hunt Valley Mall.
The master plan calls for the DNR to work with the State Highway Administration to develop safe access for trail users to the Hunt Valley Mall, probably along the shoulder of a proposed extension of Shawan Road to Paper Mill Road.
Once at the mall, cyclists would hoist their bikes onto a light rail car. The light rail system now stops 4 1/2 miles south of Hunt Valley, but the line is scheduled to be extended to the mall by 1996, according to Dianna Rosborough, a spokeswoman for the Mass Transit Administration.