Riding/running/walking/blading the trails

Safe haven for exercise promotes fitness, socialization

Safe haven for exercise promotes fitness, socialization

July 07, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

With the mercury popping at a blistering 94 degrees, a lone bicycle emerges from a distant haze at the eastern edge of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

Eyes obscured by dark shades snug around his temples, John Miller glides to a stop, another ride complete - 10 miles to Hancock and back on this unsavory day.

Using his sweat-soaked white T-shirt to wipe moisture from his face, the Falling Waters resident rides the rail once a week for fitness, though there is one problem.


"The only bad thing is you don't get any hills," he says in between gulps of water from a plastic bottle. "And I like riding hills. (This is like) riding a stationary bike."

A minor quibble, he admits the trail often beats riding along the roadside where traffic, smog and not-so-friendly pets can turn a relaxing bike ride into an exercise in stress and supreme concentration.

An even, paved surface, devoid of traffic. A safe haven where kids can ride their bikes in peace or parents can push a stroller. A trail where the only sounds, other than the occasional distant rumble of a lawnmower, are the chirping of birds or the monotonous slap of running shoe on trail.

There are puns (mostly bad) to be made about the Rails-to-Trails program - All aboard Rails-to-Trails; Railing about trails - but perhaps it's best we leave it at this:

For a safe, secluded and slightly educational aerobic exercise environment there's nothing like riding the rails.

"They tend to be very popular because they're flat," says Neal Welch, western regional planner for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which maintains the Western Maryland trail.

Miles to go

The 20-mile long trail begins in Big Pool and continues west beyond Hancock, parallel to the Potomac River. A 2.5 mile extension of the trail is expected to be complete in 2003.

Miller typically bikes the entire length of the trail and back, a trek that can take two or three hours depending on his pace and the type of workout he's looking for.

He enjoys the trail for its picturesque beauty and solitude, away from heavy traffic patterns and narrow breakdown lanes.

"It's not as dangerous because there are no automobiles," aside from the few spots where trail intersects rural roads, Miller says. "It's a lot safer riding on the trail. It's pretty."

And it's hardly the only one. Statewide, Welch estimates railroad rights of way have been converted to more than 100 miles of trail.

In Anne Arundel County, 30 miles of trail are operational with another 30 in various stages of development. Roller bladers use the paved paths to get in a workout, and running clubs stage half- and full marathons.

Anne Arundel trails superintendent David Dionne says it isn't unusual for visitors to load their bikes on a train from Philadelphia, debarking near BWI Airport and biking along the trail to Annapolis for a weekend before returning home.

Roughly 70 percent of those who use the trail, he says, don't live in Anne Arundel.

"Number one, Americans are looking for healthier lifestyles, and they want to get healthy without joining the local gym," Dionne says. "Trails offer a chance to get exercise."

The program also eradicates a potential blight on the landscape. Dionne calls them potential linear landfills, where anything from an old washing machine to abandoned tires could make their final resting place.

Establishment of the trails changes all of that, while also promoting socialization by creating an environment where friends and neighbors can congregate.

"Instead of driving a mile and a half away they're taking the trail. They're stopping to talk to their neighbors, they're smelling the flowers," Dionne says. "Instead of meeting their neighbors windshield to windshield on a suburban road, now they meet on the trail."

Alone on the trail at the conclusion of his weekday afternoon ride, Miller says the Western Maryland route is often full on the weekends. Having been surprised by a dog while riding on the road a few weeks ago, he remembers another benefit of the trail: Less likelihood of animals surprising him.

"I've ridden 5,000 miles in summer and you really have to worry about dogs, especially on the weekends," he says. "(Here) you don't have to worry about animals as much. That's a big thing riding."

If you go...

Western Maryland Rail Trail, a 20-mile public space beginning in Big Pool and extending westward beyond Hancock

Trail opens daily at 8 a.m., closing at sunset.

To reach the eastern end of the trail, take exit 12 on I-70. Take a left at end of ramp. Trail parking will be less than a mile on the right.

To enter the trail in Hancock, take exit 3 off I-70. Drive west on Md 144 for 1.4 miles. Trail parking will be on the left.

For information, go to on the Web.

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