After years and years of negotiations, the missing link to connect the two portions of the Ma & Pa Trail has been secured, Harford County and Bel Air town officials announced Thursday.
"For nearly two decades, we have dreamed of connecting the two parts of the Ma & Pa Trail," County Executive Barry Glassman told the crowd gather at the Williams Street trailhead. "It will finally be connected. We have acquired the last piece."
The missing piece belong to the family of the late State Sen. Robert Hooper and for years the county and family were negotiating, without coming to an agreement, for an easement through the property. That all ended in the past two weeks when everyone involved came to an understanding.
The county will pay $100,000 for an approximately 660-foot long by 20-foot wide easement through the property owned by H & H Joint Venture LLC. The purchase was approved Tuesday at a closed session of the Harford County Board of Estimates.
The night before, the Bel Air Board of Town commissioners voted to pay $75,000 for an easement to provide an entrance and exit and other amenities along the stretch of the trail that is within the town's borders.
The easement for the trail, which the county will own, is about 13,000 square feet.
"It may not sound like a lot, but as I like to say, good things come in small packages," said Glassman, who was joined at Thursday's announcement by Bel Air Mayor Susan Burdette and members of the Hooper family.
Their property, off Ellendale Street, is the former home of Harford Sanitation Services, which was founded by Sen. Hooper and his late father and sold following the senator's death in 2008. The property, which has several industrial/commercial tenants, backs up to the bed of the former Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad, for which the trail is named.
Phil Hosmer, president of the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail Foundation, who was also present, said he is thrilled with Thursday's announcement, as is the entire foundation board.
"This is great not just for the town of Bel Air, but for the county and state of Maryland," Hosmer said. "It's a great recreational resource that will also spur economic development, spur economic development and increase recreational tourism."
He is on the trail at least three times a week with his two black Labrador retrievers running the section from Williams Street to Tollgate Road.
"I want to give back, I enjoy the trail so much personally," Hosmer said of his involvement in the foundation. "It's a very exciting day. It's a great example of teamwork across so many different levels of government, the private sector and the foundation."
Thousands of people use the trail each year. County officials didn't have a figure on how many people use the trail, but said it's the most heavily used parks and recreation amenity in the county.
The connection will create a 7.5-mile continuous trail from Jarrettsville Road in Forest Hill to Annie's Playground in Fallston, crossing two main thoroughfares along the way – Tollgate Road near the Equestrian Center and Main Street in town.
Glassman said he will allocate money to build the trail in the budgets in each of the next two years. Prior estimates have put the cost of building the trail in the $2 million to $2.5 million range.
He hopes to break ground for construction in the spring of 2018 and have the trail open within a year of that and "we'll gather for an even bigger celebration."
Glassman and members of Sen. Hooper's family unveiled a sign announcing the connection.
"Senator Hooper was a mentor to me and a good friend," said Glassman, who succeed him in the State Senate. "I know he's looking down and if he were here he'd be giving me his trademark high five for getting this done."
Burdette said the trail connection will go a long way toward helping make Bel Air a destination where people want to live, work and play. She said it will trigger retail investment in the community and increase the vitality of the area.
She pointed to former Mayor Rob Reier, who stood nearby with his golden retriever Jack, whose one main goal, she said, was to connect the trail. And she also acknowledged Town Administrator Jesse Bane, the former Harford sheriff, who she said made it his mission to get it connected when he started working for the town 18 months ago.
Donna Lewis, a longtime runner who often uses the trail said she is "obviously excited because I'm always on the trail."
She has a few concerns, though, since her house will back up to the new portion. She's worried about noise and trash and privacy, but is waiting to see how it all plays out.
As a runner, "Oh my Lord, I'll be able to run without having to double back. And it will be new terrain in new territory," she said.
Glassman also uses the trail often.
"When I run this trail, believe me all the problems I have to deal with, it puts me at peace," Glassman said. "This is a beautiful trail, one of the most beautiful trails that we have in the state of Maryland. And having this addition is just going to be wonderful."