Ma & Pa Trail extensions worth pursuing [Editorial]

Popular though it is, the Ma & Pa Trail remains incomplete, with a gap where it passes through the northern end of the Town of Bel Air.

"There's a two mile segment in Forest Hill and a four mile segment in Bel Air," Phil Hosmer, vice president of Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, was quoted as saying. "But you can't get from one part to the other part. There's a two mile segment that can't be built until the county secures the land."

The trail is one of many popular recreational pathways based on various incarnations of rails to trails programs. In the case of the Ma & Pa Trail, the path follows the route of the old Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad that lined Baltimore and York, Pa., with stops in Towson, Bel Air and points north.

Out of service for decades, the railroad left a roadbed with a grade that makes it ideal for walking, jogging and biking, and that's just what it's been used for much of the past two decades, at least on those two sections in Forest Hill and Bel Air.

The family that for years operated Harford Sanitation is in possession of a key section of the old railroad bed when it comes to linking the Bel Air and Forest Hill sections. The county has given up trying to negotiate for a public right of way through the property on Ellendale Street, though a citizens group called the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail has taken up the cause of lobbying for a deal.

It remains to be seen if members of the Hooper family that owns the property will change their minds on the arrangement. The land in question is valuable, and it could lose value if a section of it ends up being used by cyclists and joggers.

It would be nice if a deal could be struck. It's good the Harford County and the Bel Air town governments are looking to see what options there are for finding another route that would link the two sections of the trail, not to mention areas farther afield to extend the trail to the north and south.

At present, the trail is something of a light version of the longer and much more well traveled NCR trail that runs 20 miles along the old North Central Railroad from Phoenix near Cockeysville north to the Mason – Dixon Line and beyond. With a little bit of effort, the Ma & Pa Trail could be every bit as long and as much a regional draw as the NCR Trail. Sections running through Rocks State Park, for example, would be relatively easy to add. It will, however, be important to find a link in Bel Air, even it isn't true to the original route of the rail line.

Such projects don't come free, and they don't come without effort, but so long as there is active community involvement in pursuing the arrangement, like the Heritage Trail group, there is reason to be optimistic about the trail being extended.

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