The Lure Of The Monocacy

March 23, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- In the spring, blooming Virginia blue-bells and other wildflowers lure Larry Marsh away from his desk to the tree-lined banks of the slow-moving Monocacy River.

The draw of the Monocacy is more than just wildflowers, though, even in spring, Mr. Marsh says. It's also the occasional glimpse of a great-blue heron wading through shallow water, or painted and snapping turtles swimming by that deepen Mr. Marsh's appreciation for this scenic waterway.

The Monocacy and its banks constitute a haven Mr. Marsh would like to share with others. To him, the river, which bisects Frederick County in its southerly flow to the Potomac River, seems a natural for trails for bikers, hikers, birders and other outdoor enthusiasts.

"This access to the river for myself and my employees started me thinking that greenways and paths would be a real bonus to the people of Frederick County," said Mr. Marsh, whose company, Marsh-McBirney Inc., manufactures water-monitoring equipment.

Two years after donating $1,000 and the use of his land for trails, Mr. Marsh's dream is inching closer to reality. A Frederick consulting firm -- hired with a $30,000 grant from the county last summer -- is expected to complete a design of a Monocacy greenway by year's end.

And next month -- for the first time -- Mr. Marsh and the Frederick County Trails Committee, a group advocating trails along the Monocacy and throughout the county, will share their vision with the public.

The committee envisions a trail running the length of the Monocacy -- a river that stretches 58.2 miles from its beginning near the Pennsylvania border to the Potomac -- and connecting with a future network of trails leading to such prominent Western Maryland landmarks as Sugarloaf Mountain, the Appalachian Trail and the C & O Canal.

'Premier scenic river'

"The Monocacy River has a long history and tradition within Frederick County," said Kathryn Streletzky, a member of the Monocacy Canoe Club. "It's one of the premier scenic rivers in Maryland. Its beauty is there to be enjoyed by everyone -- but it's something that most people in the county are not aware of."

Although the Monocacy National Battlefield and a few county and municipal parks are located along the river -- the largest Maryland tributary of the Potomac -- the waterway remains largely inaccessible, except to canoeists, fishermen and boaters.

But even those groups want greater access to the river.

"It's definitely a resource that has not been taken advantage of," said Amy Draper, a Frederick resident who is Mr. Marsh's daughter and a member of the trails committee. "There are very few points to get down to the river, unless it's designated parks areas."

The Monocacy trail proposal is ambitious, but it is just one of several proposed greenways in Maryland. Among the trails -- in various stages of development -- are the Gwynn Falls Greenway, from West Baltimore's Leakin Park to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, and others from Susquehanna State Park to Conowingo Dam and from BWI to the Patapsco River Valley.

The most popular completed trail system in Maryland is the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which stretches 20 miles from Ashland in northern Baltimore County to the Pennsylvania border, Department of Natural Resources officials said.

Support for greenways

In Frederick, a groundswell of support for greenways has existed among public officials and outdoor enthusiasts for years. The county is looking to fund a study for a countywide trail system in fiscal 1996, said Gil Kingsbury, chief of the bureau of parks and recreation.

"We recognize the Monocacy as a major potential greenway," he said. "Fortunately, we've had a very active group of private individuals who have taken a lead on this."

Supporters concede that such a trail system could cost millions of dollars and take years to complete. Environmental and other hurdles, such as acquiring conservation easements or property from landowners, would have to be overcome.

"It would be great if we could find an alignment along the river and it didn't cause detriment," said Stuart D. Wallace, a landscape architect and one of the owners of the consulting company. "What we hope to find out is whether this really makes sense or is just too costly in terms of dollars and environmental factors."

Mr. Wallace said the intent of the study is not only to look at greenways and other possible recreation uses but also conservation and preservation of land uses. Farming is common along much of the river.

"This isn't a land grab," he said. "We're trying to see what kinds of things could occur along the Monocacy. We're trying to see if there's community interest in something like this. If there isn't, it will have a hard time happening."

Mixed emotions

Some environmentalists, concerned about the river's health, have mixed emotions about the project. They are afraid more people along the river would mean more pollution and destruction of sensitive areas.

"I think there are some concerns," said Andy Nichols, president of the Monocacy Watershed Conservancy. "As long as a trail is done nicely, it's a boon. If it causes problems and

causes access to places that need to be more isolated for the benefit of wildlife or ecology, then it's better there is no trail there."

But others believe a greenway would be a protective buffer to the river and provide greater visibility that might lead to less dumping.

"The river goes through some really pastoral countryside," said Dick Lind, a conservancy member. "It's just beautiful. Why shouldn't it be made more accessible?"

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