A Catonsville nonprofit is trying a new solution to an old problem this week as part of its ongoing effort to provide the community with walking paths.
Catonsville Rails to Trails will use a gravel substance, called crush and run, that will allow for easier pedestrian traffic as it begins resurfacing a section of the Short Line Trail from Maiden Choice Lane to Paradise Avenue.
Volunteers from the group have been preparing the one-third-mile section of Short Line trail for the final steps in the repurposing by unearthing and donating the old rail tracks, widening the existing dirt path and leveling the ground.
The resurfacing was scheduled to begin Monday, March 4.
Workers from Catonsville-based Link Contracting and RLW Services will install a layer of geo-textile material that will allow water to drain from the trail without letting vegetation grow up through the gravel.
Then, the crush and run — tiny pieces of gravel mixed with a concrete aggregate that holds the gravel together when flattened — will be laid on top and compacted to provide a walking surface more stable than the current dirt path, which is often muddied by rain.
The project is scheduled for completion Wednesday, March 6, weather permitting.
Catonsville Rails to Trails has resurfaced other sections of railroad, including the No. 9 Trolley Trail and the No. 8 Streetcar Trail, using asphalt pavement.
The group decided to use crush and run because of its lower cost.
"We're using it for the first time on this trail," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, a Catonsville Rails to Trails co-founder and board member.
To resurface the one-third mile section of the Short Line with crush and run costs $30,000, while paving a one-third mile section of the No. 8 Streetcar Trail with asphalt cost the organization $69,000.
Smith said adding walking paths to the Catonsville area is crucial for fostering social and economic relationships within the community.
"It helps businesses, it helps connect neighborhoods and it gets people out of their cars," she said.
The nonprofit organization repurposes sections of old railroad lines and turns them into walking trails for the community.
"It's having a walkable community that makes a community so much better," Smith said.
In 2006, Catonsville Rails to Trails signed a lease for the Short Line Rail Road, which extends from Mellor Avenue to the Charlestown retirement community on Maiden Choice Lane, according to the group's newsletter.
That gave the nonprofit the right to clear the trail, improve the surface and, in general, make it easier for residents to walk.
A piece of local history
Contractors Christopher Podowski, of Link Contracting, and Bobby Williams, of RLW Services, have been donating time and money to the trails for some time now.
Podowski, a Catonsville resident, has been interested in railroads since his childhood.
He said he was fascinated with the Short Line's story.
"Catonsville was a substantial part of the railroad," Podowski said.
"A lot of people that lived in the city, that had the money, used to come out here and they kind of made this their summer home area, from my understanding," he said. "And the railroad used to bring them out here."
He said he has been working with Rails to Trails for more than two years.
"My wife knew Maureen and we happened to see Maureen working there one day and that's how I got involved," Podowski said.
"We stopped by and asked her what she was doing and she explained it to us," he said.
Once he heard about the mission of Rails to Trails, Podowski was hooked.
He started as a volunteer, then gradually found himself donating the time and resources from his Catonsville-based contracting company.
"I started donating time and my machine (a Bobcat) sometimes on the weekends once in a while to help them a little more," Podowski said.
Sweeney Smith said Podowski said the words any volunteer who has spent hours clearing trails loves to hear.
"He said, 'I have a chain saw and I'm willing to volunteer,' " she said.
"Once they saw how much work they could get done with a Bobcat skid loader, they really started pursuing me doing it more," Podowski said.
Podowski said he is looking forward to taking his 2-year-old son and 7-month-old daughter out on the trails in the future.
"When they get older, we can take them down there to ride their bikes and stuff. It's a nice place for them to play, kind of not near the street," he said.
A government partnership
Rails to Trails receives most of its funding from federal and state grants.
The current resurfacing project, for example, is funded by a $30,000 grant from the State Highway Administration
Smith attributes much of the group's recent success in obtaining that money to Baltimore County's increased emphasis on decreasing the need for motorized vehicles to get around a community.
"The fact that we've been able to really take off recently is (because of) the county's attitudes toward trails, more funding being made available and (1st District Councilman) Tom Quirk being in office," Smith said.
Quirk, a Catonsville resident who was recently elected chairman of the County Council, has been instrumental in giving the 14-year-old organization the assistance it needed to get serious about their projects, starting in 2010, Smith said.
Once the Chertkof family, previous owners of the Caton and Louden Railroad that includes the Short Line Trail, signed the property over to CRTT, Quirk helped the nonprofit create a lease agreement for the property and business partnership with Baltimore County to speed up the repurposing process.
"He has been a huge advocate for us," Smith said.