Trail debate portends a lively evening

April 19, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

A new hiker-biker trail with access through the playground of Millersville Elementary School could put children in danger, nearby residents fear.

"It's difficult enough to keep strangers off school grounds as it is now," said Darlene Huntsman, who has two children attending school there.

"Teachers don't need that additional responsibility."

She and other Millersville-area residents are ready to argue during a meeting with county officials tonight that the trail poses a safety hazard to students.

"I don't know if they [county officials] think this is going to be a tea and crumpet meeting or if they know they are going to run into major opposition," warned Donna Linkins, president of the Millersville Elementary School PTA.

The South Shore Trail is part of a network of trails that would run from Bestgate Road near the Annapolis Mall to Odenton, then to Bowie in Prince George's County, much of it along the old WB&A Railroad right of way.

The plan has been criticized by some west and central county residents who say it will bring crime into those areas.

At tonight's meeting at the school, sponsored by the Citizens Advisory Council, parents are expected to focus on the access route they fear would give strangers the opportunity to abduct a child.

"It would be different if it was a middle school or a high school where the kids are more street-wise," said Mrs. Huntsman, who is organizing a petition drive and has handed out 40 petitions to various communities in the area.

"I've got parents working on it and they are supposed to circulate it in their neighborhoods," she said.

Many of the parents are not opposed to the trail, they just want the county to find another access route.

"The concept of the trail is great," said Patty Parrott, president of the Citizens Advisory Council. "But there are a lot of details that need to be worked out yet."

Jack Keene, chief of planning for county Recreation and Parks, said the exact route of the trail and access points are not written in stone.

"This is just a spot on the map that notes a possible access point that is on public property," he said. "The final determination will be made by the school board, who is the property owner."

Mr. Keene said he plans to address the residents concerns and give a short presentation on the proposed trail tonight.

Another possible access route, residents say, is the old Millersville Elementary School building on Millersville Road. That site allows for more parking and would keep people using the trail away from school children, they argue.

Another concern of some residents who live near the trail is keeping it on the abandoned tracks of the Washington Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. The railroad bed has not been maintained for 60 years and it has become a dumping ground for trash and garden waste. Water has gathered in the bed making it a wetland.

As the plan stands now, the trail would climb from the bed of the railroad tracks on to a natural rise that overlooks Libby Sorka's home on Arundel Station Road.

"We are working really hard with the county to get them to find another way to cross the wetlands," Mrs. Sorka said. "We would like to see them use a boardwalk to cross the wetlands. It has been done before."

Mr. Keene said the Army Corps of Engineers will determine if that land is a wetland and what can be done about it.

"Certainly it would offer a lot of advantages to us to stay on the tracks," he said. "But because of the wetlands, it may not be possible."

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