Catonsville will celebrate another milestone on the road to becoming a more walkable and bikeable community Saturday morning.
Community leaders, elected officials and residents will gather with members of Catonsville Rails to Trails at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science on Oct. 19 for a 9 a.m. dedication ceremony of the 2.2 mile Short Line Trail.
The ceremony will follow an 8 a.m. leisurely bicycle ride along the trail and through the Paradise community scheduled for 8 a.m. CRTT members and community residents are invited to enjoy the ride before returning to the site for the ribbon cutting.
A 1.1-mile section of the trail has been cleared of debris and lingering railroad ties and graded and lined with a gravel-like substance called Crush and Run to provide a safe environment where community members may enjoy the outdoors.
"It hasn't been easy," said CRTT board member Maureen Sweeney Smith. "When we started [CRTT in 1996] we were at meetings and people were screaming at us. They were opposed to the trail.
"We were working with a budget in the thousands and now we're working with a budget in the millions," she said. "It feels great, even though we're doing it in small chunks."
Sweeney Smith said the dedication ceremony will give the organization a chance to show off the hard work of its volunteers to the community and the area's elected officials.
"What this is all about is the people who have made this trail possible," she said. "I've invited all the volunteers and anybody who has donated. Anybody can come."
The trail extends from the Charlestown Retirement Community on Maiden Choice Lane to the Shops at Mellor on Mellor Avenue. It was formerly a railroad that first carried passengers, and later freight, from Baltimore City to Catonsville.
The property was purchased from bankruptcy in October 1945 by David Chertkof after a new trolley line from the city drew passenger traffic away from the Short Line.
Chertkof renamed it the Caton and Loudon Railway Company and offered bi-weekly freight service until 1972 when the line's last customer, the Spring Grove power plant, switched from coal to oil.
Eventually, Chertkof's grandson, Robert Chertkof, who also owns the Shops at Mellor, took responsibility for the property. In 2006, he developed a long-term lease between the railroad company and Catonsville Rails to Trails, a local nonprofit formed in 1996.
"It went dormant and then we started to think about what we can do with it," Chertkof said. "We became convinced that the only use for it was a walking trail, or biking.
"[And then] along came Catonsville Rails to Trails," he said.
Chertkof said his family initially planned to donate the land as a gift to Baltimore County for recreational use. When that offer was declined, they considered Rails to Trails as a suitable local alternative.
"We leased it initially for five years while we worked out the details of a gift," he said.
On Dec. 27, 2012, those details were worked out and that gift became a reality when Chertkof, along with the railroad's remaining stakeholders, officially turned all of the railroad's stock ownership over to CRTT.
Chertkof said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to honor CRTT's progress at .
"It's just nice to have something that wasn't doing anything put to use so people can enjoy it," he said.
Accepting the donation was the culmination of a long, arduous process, according to Sweeney Smith.
"First, we had to get through the land issues and the legal issues and get Bob [Chertkof] to donate it to us," she said. "And then we had to get the county on board, and [Councilman] Tom Quirk did that for us."
Quirk said the trail will benefit more than recreational use in the area.
"The more the beltways get congested and people have to wait hours to get to work, the more we're going to see people who want to live close to where they work and want to walk or bike, not just sit in a car on a beltway stuck," he said.
"Communities with more walking and biking paths are the communities that will prosper into the future," he said. "That's definitely a new model that's really taking hold out there.
"Good biking and walking trails help increase property values. They're good for the stability of the community and they're good for people's health."