CUMBERLAND — The mountain side of Maryland and those living closer to metropolitan centers can at least agree on one thing — there is value when investing in local trail systems.
With many legislative initiatives, there often is a split on what is good for one part of the state and what is good for Mountain Maryland.
This time, “I think the two sides do agree,” said Bill Atkinson on Friday, two days after Gov. Martin O’Malley announced the state’s first Maryland Trails: A Greener Way To Go plan.
The development of the plan was spearheaded by the state Department of Transportation. It focuses on a long-term projection of how a seamless trail network throughout the state can increase commuter options. Atkinson works for the Maryland Department of Planning and is a local representative for the Pennsylvania-based Trail Towns Program. He also is appointed as an advisory member to the Garrett Trails organization by the Garrett County commissioners.
Atkinson said the annual PACE reception in Annapolis about a week ago, where both Garrett Trails and the Allegany County-based Mountain Maryland Trails organization collaborated on a booth to showcase their positive economic impact, was “the first time we really joined forces.”
“We received a lot of interest at PACE with the combined booth,” said Mike Dreisbach, Mountain Maryland Trails president. “It looks like MMT and Garrett Trails can help the governor add about another 200 miles to make it 1,000 miles in Maryland.”
Atkinson, an avid bicyclist, said people already are using portions of the 20.47-mile Great Allegheny Passage in Allegany County as a commuting option on good-weather days. The gradual decline from Frostburg east to Cumberland provides an easy ride to work, he said.
“We found that to be one of those sidebars to the trail experience,” Atkinson said. “It’s easy to get to work that way. It’s recreation, it’s transportation and it’s economic development.”
State officials appear eager to agree.
“Working together, we can create a great transportation trails network that takes residents to where they need to go by bicycle or foot without ever having to get into their cars,” said Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley in a news release.
Atkinson said a key goal of local stakeholders is to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to Garrett County — possibly from Penn Alps Restaurant in Grantsville to the GAP in Meyersdale, Pa., by way of the Casselman River railroad. Another top priority is to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to the Georges Creek communities along state Route 36, into West Virginia then back in Maryland in Kitzmiller.
“You know, the longer we can get the person to stay in the area, the better it is for Western Maryland,” Atkinson said. “This is a regional concept of trails.”
Atkinson said there is a chance that the towns of Lonaconing, Barton and Midland can all connect to the existing railroad bed before it fully connects to Frostburg and the Great Allegheny Passage.