Building community with the environment

Trail: A long-awaited four-mile path along the Little Patuxent River will connect Savage Park to Lake Elkhorn and more residents to nature.

May 03, 2002|By Paul Longo | Paul Longo,SUN STAFF

The overwhelming chorus of bird songs filling the air along the Little Patuxent River in southern Howard County is expected to have a larger audience come summertime.

The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks is finishing a trail that will link paths along the river in Savage with trails around and beyond Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Owen Brown village.

From Savage Park, the 4-mile trail follows the river north and west to a point just past the end of Broken Land Parkway in Columbia. The project began in November 1998 and was half-finished by late 1999, said Ken Alban, the department's administrator for capital projects.

"The contractor is confident that the job will be done early this summer," Alban said in a recent telephone interview.

Alban said the completion was delayed by a number of snags, including problems with acquiring land, the revision of trail routes because of environmental concerns, and archaeological site studies that had to be conducted to receive federal money.

"People are thrilled and delighted, and they can't wait for the path to be done," said Anne Dodd, village manager of Kings Contrivance. "It has been anticipated for a number of years, and the community is very excited about it."

The new trail will cross the Pratt Truss Bridge, a structure dating from 1902 that is on a list of endangered sites prepared by a Howard historical preservation group.

Two other bridges and wetland boardwalks protect "environmentally sensitive" areas, Alban said.

The trail will cost $3 million to $3.5 million, he said, with federal grant money providing about $1.2 million of that.

The project is part of a collaboration between the county and the Columbia Association. "We are the spine and they are the fingers," Alban said, referring to the various Columbia trails that branch from the county's 16 miles of paths.

Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said Howard focuses on the longer stretches of paths, while most of the association's trails wind through Columbia's villages. The village trails cover about 88 miles, said Warren Raymond, the assistant director of land maintenance for the Columbia Association.

"The paths are part of the original concept of Columbia," Raymond said. "They are important not only for the kids who use them to walk to school, but also to provide opportunities to interact with nature. It's a very central part of the quality of life of the neighborhoods."

Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co. and a designer of Columbia, said the paths are an integral part of the community. "It was a major piece of the plan: to allow people to appreciate and enjoy the open spaces in Columbia. They connect the community and help foster communication within it."

Arthur also pointed out the paths' importance to the community. "A county survey in 1994 showed that the No. 1 priority for citizens was linear recreation -- trails."

Thomas Beline, 89, of Columbia routinely walks his dog around Lake Elkhorn. "The paths are just beautiful. It's one of the things that keeps me around this area," he said.

Rebecca Atwell, who lives in eastern Howard County, also enjoys Columbia's paths. "I have used a lot of the trails over the years. I feel safe, there are friendly people, and it gives you the illusion of fresh air and being out in the country while still being in the middle of the city."

Clara Gouin, a county parks planner, said that although the paths around Lake Elkhorn and Centennial Lake are heavily used, other trails have yet to gain popularity.

Referring to the completed southern 2 miles of the Savage-Lake Elkhorn project, Gouin said, "Walking along the old railroad bed is utterly beautiful. You don't even know you're in Columbia when you're on it."

For the county, the project is only a small piece of a larger plan. Arthur said the goal is a path that extends across the county toward Marriottsville Road and connects with trails in Patapsco Valley State Park.

"We are a third of the way there," Arthur said, "but completion will be further down the line. There's no funding planned as of now."

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