Bike trail blazes new era of visitors


September 11, 1994|By Beth Smith | Beth Smith,Special to The Sun

Walking through the village of Monkton on a sunny, hot Sunday is like strolling down the boardwalk at a seacoast resort. People, all ages, all sizes, decked out in all manner of summer attire, many with toddlers and babies in tow, are everywhere.

Bikers, walkers, joggers and runners, slurping snowballs or sipping fruit juices, mill about. Tubing enthusiasts, water travelers who float down the nearby Gunpowder River in large, black inner tubes, squeak through the crowd in water-logged tennis shoes. The atmosphere is country fair, minus the balloons.

The cause of all the excitement is the Northern Central Railroad Trail. Managed by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, the railroad bed turned hiking-biking trail meanders 19.7 miles through some of the prettiest property in northern Baltimore County to the Maryland line, and now, thanks to efforts in the York area, beyond to New Freedom, Pa.

Located about halfway between St. James' Church to the east and York Road to the west, the village of Monkton was a sleepy little burg when the trail opened in 1984 and expanded in 1989. It had long passed its late-19th-century prime as a railroad town and commercial center for surrounding farmland, much of it known as My Lady's Manor.

But with the old Monkton Station housing rangers' offices and public restrooms, the village, located seven miles from the start of the trail in Ashland, became a major stopping point on the trek north or south.

"In the last five years, we have seen interest in the trail grow 100 percent each year," says Bill Schmalzer, station attendant. "On a sunny day in the summer, we have clocked as many as 1,100 people an hour hiking or biking through Monkton."

Enduring local opposition in the planning stages, the Rail Trail has been accepted, if not quite embraced, by the residents here.

"The trail is fabulous as a resource," says Gloria Cameron, owner of a horse farm and president of the Monkton Preservation Association, "But it has been somewhat of a mixed blessing because of the traffic through the village. On busy days, it is scary."

Happily for the residents, weekdays are far less-crowded than weekends and activity in the winter is sporadic and, at times, nonexistent. Once you drive beyond the village of Monkton, you see little impact wrought by the trail. The land is open and rolling, with a few discreet subdivisions or single-family homes tucked into property that is mostly farmland and estates.

Beside the bike trail, the village of Monkton, a historic district, consists of about 30 houses, some dating to the 1800s. Founded in the 18th century, the town has only a few remaining buildings that can be traced to the beginning.

"Of course, we might find 18th-century log walls if we ripped apart some of the houses," says Ruth Mascari, chairman of the Baltimore County Landmark Preservation Committee and a Monkton resident for 20 years -- not a long time by local standards, she says, considering some families have links to the Manor that go back for a century or maybe even two.

Monkton Hotel, Hall

The most eye-catching building in the village is the brick, three-story Monkton Hotel, vintage 1853, which was bought 18 years ago by ex-Roland Park residents Jean and David Fulton. After renovating extensively, they moved into half of the hotel and rented the rest. Mrs. Fulton, an artist, opened Juxtapose, an art studio and gallery in what was the attached Monkton post office, now moved to Hereford.

Hotel tenants include a real estate company, several writers, and a country store where visitors can buy health food, drinks and snowballs. The Hike and Bike Shop, which sells bikes and bike supplies, has space next to the store as well as in the basement, where owner Jim White, a Monkton resident, has 62 bikes, 100 tubes and a few canoes to lease.

Across the street is a brick building called Monkton Hall, whose beginnings go back to the mid-19th century.

"It never was a town hall in the strict sense of the word because Monkton was not a town with town meetings and such," says Mrs. Mascari says. Once a center for dances and band concerts, it now serves as home to Charlotte's Web, an interior design firm.

Several residences, some dating to the 19th century, are nearby. Just up the hill is the Monkton United Methodist Church, which has served Monkton since 1870, and the Isaiah Baptist Church.

Roughly spread out east to the Jarrettsville Pike and into Harford County, north to Blue Mount Road and Troyer Road, west to York Road, and south slightly from Manor Road, Monkton, the postal zone, has about 4,600 people, according to the 1990 census.

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