As Anne Arundel's trail system increases in size and popularity, the paths are becoming destinations in their own right.

Taking the long way through the county

March 09, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

On the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail, you can follow the path of an old train line from a park along the Severn River to Glen Burnie.

If you follow the B&A Trail to its end, you can slip onto the BWI Trail and catch the right sightline for a takeoff from the airport. Trails in Anne Arundel County also offer glimpses of new townhouse developments, wetlands and landmarks such as Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

As more residents take to the trails system in Anne Arundel County, they are increasingly discovering that these paths are expanding, and the expansion shows no sign of ending.

Anne Arundel is interlaced with more than 30 miles of county trails, and - if the vision of county leaders holds - that number will double in a decade. The eventual expansion will connect the county trails system and take people to places around Maryland - and across the country.

"The trail has become everyone's sidewalk," said David Dionne, park superintendent for Anne Arundel County trails.

And the county is working to extend these paths, particularly in western Anne Arundel County.

Officials recently opened a piece of the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail, creating a four-mile route between Odenton and Piney Orchard. Plans are in the works to connect this path to an existing trail in Prince George's County.

A series of bridges are being built over wetlands west of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, linking up paths to Patapsco State Park, Ellicott City and, eventually, Baltimore.

Construction will also soon begin on a 10.3-mile stretch of trail on the defunct South Shore rail line between Odenton and Annapolis. The county is seeking federal grant money to construct the first section of the South Shore Trail near Route 32 in Millersville.

When the WB&A and the South Shore trails are completed, users will be able to access a continuous set of paths within the county from near Crofton to BWI.

County Councilman Bill D. Burlison has been a proponent of extending the trails system to West County. He considers himself "a big runner and my wife ... a big walker," and has taken advantage of the WB&A Trail near his home in Odenton. "It's exactly a half-mile from my house," he said.

Annapolis serves as a juncture for two national trails: the East Coast Greenway, which runs 2,600 miles from the Florida Keys to Maine, and the American Discovery Trail, a 6,800-mile collection of paths that runs from Lewes, Del., to San Francisco.

"They say that Annapolis is the sailing capital of the world; it's also becoming the trail capital of the world," said Dionne, a board member of the East Coast Greenway.

When Annapolis began establishing a trails system almost 20 years ago, it did so to link communities and provide access to local recreational facilities. Officials now are eager to hook up the city's 16 miles of trails with the county's expanding system.

Within the next five years, the city wants to expand the 2,400-foot Poplar Trail on Admiral Drive to accommodate a bike path, then link it with the South Shore Trail near Westfield Shoppingtown, said LeeAnn Plumer, director of the Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department.

The city and Anne Arundel County recently connected the 15-mile B&A Trail to Annapolis' system at Jonas Green Park. The B&A Trail extends to the 12.5-mile BWI Trail, which encircles the airport. The two trails attract a combined 2 million people a year, Dionne said.

Gary Wells was out last week for his routine half-mile walk with his cocker spaniel, Max, along the B&A Trail. "This is tax money well spent," said Wells, 47, of Severna Park. "You can see the direct benefit."

The county plans a 6.6-mile offshoot, the Broadneck Peninsula Trail, from the B&A Trail in Arnold to Sandy Point State Park.

At the southern edge of the county, officials want to build a four-mile segment to bridge the Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail between Calvert County and Prince George's County.

"The interesting things about our trails is they take you places. ... There are no dead-ends," said Elizabeth Wyble, president of the nonprofit Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails, whose organization preserves and enhances the county trails.

Meantime, county officials are trying to turn the trails into destinations in themselves. Officials are working with several partners to construct a model of the solar system along a four-mile section of the B&A Trail.

When completed, Planet Walk will provide a half-day field-trip opportunity for students who want to gain a greater understanding of the cosmos, one step at a time. Every 24-inch step along this section in Glen Burnie represents 26,000 miles in space.

"You will know how big the solar system is because you will have walked it," Dionne said.

The sun, a 30-foot structure of stainless steel rings and acrylic prisms, was dedicated in the fall. The first planet in construction, Pluto, is being built in Hagerstown and will be erected at the Earleigh Heights Ranger Station.

The Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails is raising the estimated $2 million needed to build the sculptures. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is donating educational signs for each of the planets.

Along the BWI Trail at Andover Equestrian Center rests the work of a Baltimore artist, a steel sculpture that an accompanying sign describes as "a plow, perhaps; a wing, or even a propeller." Several hundred artists applied four years ago for a federally funded project that was completed in October.

The Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails maintains 80 flower beds along the B&A Trail. At Jonas Green Park, Wyble wants to raise money to build a museum that recalls the B&A train line.

At every turn, the purpose of the trails is expanding right along with them. So is support for the trails. Dionne said the public has come to embrace the trails for their potential.

"The question is today - when do we get our trails?" he said.

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