Though the Ma & Pa Trail has been used by as many as 60 percent of Harford County residents at some point, many of them do not realize the historic trail runs through both the Forest Hill and Bel Air neighborhoods – with an uncompleted stretch in between.
The Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, a group of advocates for the perseveration of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, which the trail lies along, held its third annual walk and rally on Saturday afternoon to bring awareness to the incomplete project. And, they hope it is their last.
"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, said. "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 land was once used as Harford Sanitation Services, but today is used to store vehicles. The property belongs to the family of the late State Sen. Bob Hooper, listed as H&H Joint Venture LLC in the state's real property database.
"It's just this one landowner who has not been negotiating the right-of-way," Hosmer said. "We hope to raise awareness of this fact so hopefully we can start a conversation about the trail."
Throughout the length of the trail, the county has had to secure a right-of-way on at least 10 other private and publicly owned lands, Hosmer said. He said his group has reached out to the Hooper family on many occasions to discuss the county acquiring a section of their land to complete the trail. But, he said his inquiries have gone unanswered.
"We've called and written letters to the owners of the property," Hosmer said. "We've reached out, but we've never been able to get a dialogue. We're just hoping to start the conversation."
Paul Magness, chief of capital planning and development for the county's Parks and Recreation Department, estimates that adding the unattained piece to the trail could cost about $1 million per mile.
Magness said the county is no longer negotiating for the former Harford Sanitation Services property.
"They weren't interested in selling," Magness said Monday afternoon. "We pursued them for two years. At the end of the day they weren't interested in selling or the terms of a right of way or fee simple acquisition."
Magness said parks and rec is actively negotiating with another property owner to secure passage through their land to complete the trail.
"If we can complete the negotiations and acquire the necessary property sometime in the first half of 2014, then we certainly would start the design process as soon as possible," Magness said.
He said the county has allocated $150,000 for its 2015 budget toward the design for the trail between the Williams Street trail head in Bel Air and the Blake's Venture Park trail head in Forest Hill.
In 2012, the county allocated another $150,000 toward the design of the trail.
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On the day of the rally, at least 40 people were shuttled to the trail head off Bynum Road in Forest Hill and walked the trail's stretch, past the unconnected section, to the trail head on Williams Street in Bel Air. Volunteers waited on the Bel Air end of the trail, where they passed out brochures and information to passersby, while local musicians Kurt Sudbrink and Brian Wood sang some tunes.
Amy Pollock, 47, of Edgewood, walked the trail on Saturday with her children and grandkids. She said she brings her family to the trail a few times a year for some change in scenery.
"I'm always looking for something different and free stuff to do," Pollock said. "Walking really benefits the mind and body."
But Pollock, and many other frequent users of the trail, said they were unaware of the county's struggle to obtain land to complete the trail.
Ernie Brandt, 61, of Carney, said he has been biking the trail for close to two years and was unaware of the two separate trail segments.
"I would definitely support the trail coming together," Brandt said. "It's just a beautiful ride through the countryside, forest and hills."
The trail is often the site of local runs, and the upcoming annual Thanksgiving Day YMCA Turkey Trot in Bel Air will go through portions of the trail.