There is a trend nationwide to convert old railroad beds into recreational trails for hikers, bird-watchers, bike-riders and flora-lovers. This metropolitan area contains two classic examples: the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Baltimore County and the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail in Anne Arundel County.
These "linear parks" are more than fun spots to enjoy occasionally. Hundreds of thousands of people have come to cherish them.
On any weekend in Baltimore County, you can spot autos with bikes strapped on a rack near the Northern Central trail. It makes you feel like the Tour de Trump has arrived. And on the B&A; last year, users of the rail bed showed their affection by volunteering nearly 7,500 hours for gardening, clean-up patrols and other repair activities.
The popularity of these trails and a 1991 mandate requiring states to spend parts of their federal highway funds on "enhancement" projects, has led state officials to draw up an ambitious, 10-year plan that envisions a bike trail extending from York, Pa., south to Annapolis -- with a 23 1/2 -mile connecting ride on the light-rail line from Hunt Valley in Baltimore County to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum.
While this is surely an intriguing vision, there are yawning gaps. Only 1 1/2 miles of the 22-mile York-to-Maryland trail has been completed, and Maryland officials have no way of imposing their vision on Pennsylvania politicians. Meanwhile, there won't be a light-rail stop at the southern tip of the Northern Central trail until the Hunt Valley station is opened in 1996. Also that year, the light-rail extension to BWI Airport should be finished, as well as a state-built bike path from the airport to the B&A; Trail.
Cynics say this plan sounds like a poem by Homer, who once wrote about another kind of odyssey. Yet given the popularity of the trails and the benefits of restoring old rail lines into natural splendors, this vision takes root and soars.
One of the more positive moves came recently when state
officials suggested putting an Arundel extension of the light-rail line alongside the B&A; Trail, rather than obliterating the trail for light rail. The trail is 66 feet wide; a light-rail line would need only 20 feet. Some are sure to complain that passing trains would ruin the ambience of the path. But look at the advantages of having their beloved trail and the convenience of the using the light rail.
Trails or rails? Why not both?