Dumping, graffiti frustrate trail effort

Three-year cleanup, $40,000 in donations turned path around

May 03, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Young children have picked up sticks and trash. Elderly women have gotten down on their knees to plant daffodil bulbs. Businesses have donated items ranging from Slurpee coupons to trees. And Baltimore County has donated $20,000 to clean up the old No. 8 streetcar track in Catonsville and turn it into a community walking trail.

But volunteers are frustrated that their work is being undermined by neighbors dumping debris on the trail and rowdy teen-agers marring structures with graffiti.

"This is stuff we spent three years trying to get rid of," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, director of the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce and a neighbor who has taken charge of cleaning up the trial.

The No. 8 trolley, which ran from Catonsville to Baltimore, was the last of the intricate web of area trolley lines, closing in 1963. During the next 33 years, trees fell on the track, adjacent property owners and local contractors dumped trash, and the path became a hangout for teen-agers to drink and take drugs.

But in 1996, volunteers from the Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association asked the Mass Transit Administration, which owns the trail, for permission to clean up a one-third-mile stretch of the line between Frederick Road and Edmondson Avenue.

"We were very happy to work with them," said George E. Fabula, commercial development coordinator for the MTA's office of real estate.

In the past three years, about $40,000 has been donated by the county and private groups to clean up the trail, and hundreds of volunteers have worked to remove debris and plant flowers. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have made restoration of the trail their projects, landscaping the entrances and identifying trees.

Clark LeCompte was 14 when he approached Smith three years ago with the idea for an Eagle Scout project to turn a concrete retaining wall along the trail into a mural to commemorate Catonsville's trolley past.

Smith said she was skeptical someone so young could tackle such a large job, but LeCompte surprised her.

With a bit of help, he designed and painted a scene from Catonsville's streetcar junction on Edmondson Avenue -- complete with a life-size bus.

But before the project was finished, it was marred with graffiti. LeCompte repainted the scene with graffiti-resistant paint.

Since then, vandalism has declined, but LeCompte, 17, was back on the trail last week, retouching the mural that had been marred by someone throwing rocks at it.

LeCompte said the destruction doesn't surprise him and he doesn't mind repairing the mural. "I did it for my personal enjoyment," said LeCompte, a Catonsville resident who plans to study visual arts in college.

Restoration of the No. 8 streetcar trail is nearly complete. Smith hopes to raise another $1,500 to finish putting gravel on the path and wants to place signs identifying historical features.

But she and others from the Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association have been battling adjacent property owners who dump brush and yard waste on the trail.

"This bulldozing onto the path has got to stop," Smith said.

Last week, about 30 youngsters from Hillcrest Elementary School's Kids in Action program helped pick up sticks and trash. The MTA said it will take away larger debris.

"It seems there may be some problem between residents and the association, and it appears our property may be the victim," Fabula said.

He said the MTA would speak to neighbors about the debris and, if problems persist, he said, the county might be called upon to issue fines for illegal dumping.

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