When Bob Chance stands on the shore of the Susquehanna...

November 29, 2001|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

When Bob Chance stands on the shore of the Susquehanna River he can envision a route for hikers and bicyclists to cross the river and connect trails threading through woods, a state park and towns in Harford and Cecil counties.

Someday, 38 miles of trails could bind together an area rich with arrowheads, eagles and skipjacks, said Chance, executive director of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway. The project would also help fill a gap in a system of trails stretching from Maine to Florida.

Today, about 8 miles of the Susquehanna trails are complete in Harford and Cecil counties, but hikers and bikers using them come to a dead stop at the river.

It's illegal to cross the Interstate 95 or U.S. 40 bridges on foot or bike; it's foolhardy to try the narrow U.S. 1 bridge over the Conowingo Dam.

Until nonmotorists can cross the river safely, Chance said, the greenway committee's vision of unified historical, cultural and eco-tourism will remain unfulfilled.

"I'm a little frustrated," said Chance, a retired teacher and Christmas tree farmer who lives in Berkley. "We wish we were farther along. It may be very idealistic, but we must think about what could happen [if we] link the two counties."

Allen Fair, a Havre de Grace real estate agent and past president of the greenway board of directors, said he is optimistic. "I don't think we can do it in five years. I would hope it would be in a 10-year period. A lot of it depends on money."

For a group with an annual budget of less than $200,000, money becomes a formidable issue because getting foot traffic across the river will be expensive. If a bridge is built, it could cost from $5 million to $15 million, depending on the crossing point.

But the payoff to the counties and the river towns of Havre de Grace in Harford County and Port Deposit and Perryville in Cecil County could be worth far more, Chance said, as visitors come to see historical sites, hike or bike the trails and shop, eat and stay overnight.

In March, the state named the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway a certified heritage area - one of five in Maryland. The designation opens a five-year window for grants, loans and tax incentives for projects related to heritage tourism, said Janet Gleisner, a Harford planner who is the county's liaison on the greenway committee.

With help from Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in the late 1990s, she said, the greenway committee - formed in 1992 - got $1.2 million in federal funds to study ways to get hikers and bicyclists across the river. The group plans to present preliminary findings to the public in February, she said.

The Susquehanna crossing is also essential to another project, the East Coast Greenway, a system of trails that will run from Maine to Key West, Fla.

"It's probably only one of a few significant water crossings where we don't have a solution," said Karen Votava, executive director of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, which began in the mid-1990s with the goal of linking urban centers along the 2,600-mile north-south route.

Michael Rothenheber, a consultant with the Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson engineering firm in Sparks, said the alternatives that came out of the river crossing study are a water taxi and a pedestrian bridge.

He said the most likely first link between the two counties would be a water taxi, running between Havre de Grace, Perryville, Port Deposit and Lapidum public boat landing in Harford County.

A pedestrian bridge about three-quarters of a mile long is possible at one of two crossing points, Lapidum to Port Deposit, or Havre de Grace to Perryville, Rothenheber said.

The Havre de Grace-Perryville bridge would be more expensive because it would have to be 85 feet tall so that boats could pass underneath. Rothenheber estimated the cost at $11 million to $15 million.

Fair said that option would benefit townspeople and visitors. Residents could walk or bike back and forth to visit restaurants and shops, and commuters in Havre de Grace could avoid having to drive to the MARC stop in Perryville.

A Lapidum-Port Deposit bridge, which would span non-navigable water, would need to be only 20 feet high and could cost half as much as the Perryville bridge, Rothenheber said.

Another option, suspending a pedestrian bridge under the I-95 or U.S. 40 bridges, is complicated by state code and maintenance requirements, he said.

Fair said another option the group might consider is overhead cable cars. "It wasn't in the study, but it's something we'd certainly like to look at," he said.

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