Katie and Wil Brady.

Katie and Wil Brady. Photo courtesy of the Katie and Wil Brady Memorial Foundation (Photo courtesy of the Katie and Wil Brady Memorial Foundation / Baltimore Sun / November 17, 2008)

Five years ago, Steve Brady says, he was handed a "pile of trash" when a head-on collision in Harford County killed his 31-year-old wife, Katie, and their 8-year-old son, Wil.

"It's what I do with that pile of trash at this point," he said. "I can just let it sit there, or move on with it."

One way he's moved on took the spotlight Saturday morning as Brady and his son Ian, 7, cut the ribbon on a trail extension built in memory of their loved ones at Marshy Point Nature Center in Middle River.

The Brady trail, mostly a 10-foot-wide asphalt path and some boardwalk, adds about a half-mile to the nature center's miles of trails. From one bank of Dundee Creek, it wends through woodland filled with oak, maple and sweetgum trees before passing freshwater wetlands and meadow.

The official opening came on a crisp and breezy morning, with bronze leaves glowing in the bright sunshine and a bald eagle soaring overhead.

The ribbon-cutting followed a 5K walk/run that attracted hundreds. And it marked the culmination of efforts by the Katie and Wil Brady Memorial Foundation that raised $107,000 of the project's $205,000 cost.

The nature center, on tributaries leading to the Chesapeake Bay, has a personal connection for the Bradys because the family used to visit from their Perry Hall home. Soon a plaque will bear the names of Katie and Wil, along with background information. Steve Brady says it will serve a broader purpose beyond honoring his wife and son.

"People who have no idea about the story can come here, get out and enjoy the outdoors with their family," he said. "That is what we wanted all along: a place for reflection and just feeling good about life."

All four members of the Brady family were headed to a Scout camping trip on the evening of Nov. 7, 2008, when the accident occurred on the Bel Air Bypass. Ian, then 2, emerged largely unscathed, while Steve Brady got "pretty banged up."

The driver of the Jeep Cherokee that struck the Brady family's Saturn minivan pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

The accident spurred safety improvements. The State Highway Administration put in center-line rumble strips and began requiring headlight use along the road. Last year the agency finished a $1.8 million project to install a center-line guardrail in the two-lane section of the bypass.

After the crash, donations poured in for the family. Steve Brady says they soon decided "to give it all back in some way."

The family formed the foundation, which annually adopts two animals of Ian's choosing at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. It has supported a sea turtle rescue center in North Carolina, where the family vacationed. And it raised funds for the new trail, with two companies donating more than $50,000 in engineering, environmental and design work.

At Marshy Point on Saturday, teal-and-white balloons decorated the start of the trail extension. The teal was chosen because it came close to the signature light-blue of jeweler Tiffany & Co., which Katie had a fondness for, said her sister, Kerry Stevens. Blue was Wil's favorite color.

Another sister, Kelly Lane, emceed the ribbon-cutting, which drew dozens of friends, family members, county officials and 5K participants. As some of those assembled cried, she read aloud some thoughts that had been shared by others about Katie and Wil.

Wil, short for Wilson, was recalled as a happy boy with a goofy streak and a nice way with little kids. He loved soccer, swimming, the beach, his backyard treehouse, trains, Legos and Wii. Katie had an "anything is possible" attitude. She was carefree, "her hair flying in the wind." She was also a devoted volunteer who chaperoned field trips and planned parties.

When it came time to cut the ribbon, Ian did the honors with help from his father. "It's really nice," Ian said afterward. "I am sad that my mom and brother died, but I liked cutting the ribbon."

Lane said of the trail's opening: "It's nice to know something good can come out of a tragedy and to be able to open this up to so many kids — Katie was all about that."

scalvert@baltsun.com