The MA&PA Trail is the most popular outdoor recreational park in Harford County, but you can't walk the entire eight miles because of the disregard of a single landowner, leaving a two-mile long gap in the middle.
The two segments of the trail, in Bel Air and Forest Hill, were completed in stages between 1999 and 2009. Bikers, hikers, runners and dog-walkers traverse this ribbon of green every day. Boy Scout troops have built historical and natural markers that bring Harford's rural legacy to life. Charity fundraiser 5Ks are held on the trail. A dog memorial was built in a grove of nearby trees. Volunteers clean up litter and serve as safety monitors. Running teams and fitness classes train on the trail. Quite simply, the MA & PA has become a vital part of the fabric of our community. But somehow, it remains unconnected, 20 years after a still-unused pedestrian tunnel was built under Route 1 to accommodate the future trail.
The tunnel is testament to the vision of the county's Master Plan, which calls for the two segments to be connected, forming a nearly eight-mile trail from Fallston to Forest Hill. Thanks to hard work by the county and much appreciated cooperation from land owners, public right of way has been secured for nearly all of the uncompleted two-mile stretch — from Melrose Ave. to the MA & PA Railroad Road along Hickory Village.
And there the future trail stops - just a few hundred yards away from connecting with the existing trail head at Williams St. - because of one landowner. The dream of connecting the MA & PA and completing Harford's landmark trail, of securing a recreational resource for this and future generations, is in limbo because of one family, the Hoopers, who own the former Harford Sanitation property and have been unwilling to negotiate the right of way.
The trail needs just a 10-foot wide passage, a few hundred yards long on the back side of the property. This amounts to a small fraction of the entire lot. The county and town have made repeated inquiries to the family, to no avail. Our non-profit organization, the MA & PA Heritage Trail, has reached out to the family, but have not had any success.
Because of the owners' refusal to grant the right of way, the vision of a connected trail will remain unfulfilled. Harford County, embarrassingly, has a trail with a two-mile-long hole in the middle. While we explore options, we still hope that the Hoopers will do the right thing and not impede a project that benefits an entire community. In the meantime, we are going to continue to rally and build support for the trail connection, in the hopes that our voices will be heard by the family and the county's elected officials.
Please join us in our efforts to complete the MA & PA Trail. A hike and rally will be held at the Williams St. trail head this Saturday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. A petition is on our website, http://www.mapatrail.org.
President, MA & PA Heritage Trail
Vice President, MA & PA Heritage TrailCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun