"If there were a gas leak or anything, it would be a human catastrophe," she said. The councilwoman said she wants to find "the path of least resistance," but doing nothing is not an option.

"There have been leaks in the pipe," Holton said. "The materials of the pipeline are corroding. We can't just say leave it be."

Right now, BGE is weighing three different routes, Koos said.

One — surveyed months ago, according to Aymold and park advocates — would run south of the existing pipeline and skirt the park's southern border along Hunting Ridge, Rognel Heights and Lyndhurst.

An alternative proposed two weeks ago when BGE met at Holton's behest with some park advocates and city officials, would run even more of the replacement line along the park's border by West Hills.

Orser contends that the corridors BGE has proposed to clear contain "trees that were there at the time the U.S. became a country" and many others that are at least 100 years old. Other than hiking and biking trails, the area is mostly wooded.

Park advocates say that if a new pipeline has to be laid, they believe the least disruptive would be to run it along the old corridor, which already has a 26-foot wide path cleared through the forest.

But the existing pipeline has to remain in operation while the new one is laid, Koos said. Besides, putting it in or near the stream bed faces steep regulatory hurdles, he noted.

BGE is willing to consider a third option of building the new line parallel to the old one, he added, but for safety reasons the replacement would have to be installed 75 to 100 feet away, effectively opening a new clearing through the woods.

The new pipeline requires keeping a 40-foot corridor through the forest permanently clear of trees, Koos explained, so that it can be easily checked on from the air. While crews may need to widen that clearing to 75 feet in places during construction, he said, BGE would allow trees to reclaim a portion of that.

BGE hopes to begin construction next year, the spokesman said. Before any decision is made, he said, the company would evaluate the project's impact on the forest and prepare a plan for minimizing and mitigating the disruption.

BGE has become a major supporter of tree planting in the region, even as it has sparred in recent years with residents and local officials over extensive tree trimming and removals it's conducted in neighborhoods to protect power lines from storms. The company announced this week that it was giving $300,000 to provide 13,000 free trees to customers through a pair of nonprofit groups.

Lord, head of the city forestry board, welcomed BGE's commitment to planting trees, which studies have shown reduce air pollution and make the air healthier to breathe. But she noted that Baltimore has fewer trees than other cities, and its 6,000 acres of parks provide a large share of the urban canopy.

"It's a great area," said George Farrant, 73, a retired community college chemistry instructor and vice president of the friends group, who lives in Hunting Ridge on the edge of the park. "We have owls all the time and foxes. … I hate to see all these big trees go."

Because of incorrect information from Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., an earlier version misstated the scale of an unrelated BGE donation for tree planting.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com