Company spokesman Neal said Columbia will do its best to minimize disruption to Oregon Ridge, but will need to create a work staging area during construction that's big enough to ensure safety for workers and separate it from park visitors.

"We understand that this is an important environmental resource for the community, but we also are not going to compromise the safety" of the site, Neal said. "It's a construction site, so the last thing you want do is encourage people to walk through a construction site."

Federal regulators reviewed numerous proposed alternative routes, and determined that the one they approved would have the least impact on the environment and communities, Neal added.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, an opponent of the pipeline, said taking the pipeline through the park is one example of the project's downsides. Oregon Ridge is just outside his district.

"They will literally destroy everything in their path," the Pikesville Democrat said of Columbia Gas. "Should we really permit them to just trample through Oregon Ridge Park, one of the most beautiful treasures in the state, just because they feel like it?"

The line would run near, but not on, Zirkin's own property, and he has sparred with company officials who accused the lawmaker of simply wanting to get the line away from his home. He denied that claim.

Zirkin said he's concerned about environmental and safety issues associated with natural gas lines, pointing to a pipeline explosion in Sissonville, W.Va. last year that destroyed four homes. "It's more than just the inconvenience," he said.

Columbia Gas' existing pipeline in Maryland has had an "exemplary safety record" for decades, Neal said.

Vince Gardina, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, said the county does not believe the pipeline project will have a significant environmental impact on Oregon Ridge.

"We prefer not to lose any trees, but this is fairly minimal," Gardina said.

The county doesn't have authority over the project, he added.

"They have a right of way that goes through county property," Gardina said of the gas company. "That right of way, it's federally controlled."

Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.