The recent warm weather in Maryland enticed me to try out my new bike. Since I hadn’t ridden a bike for 20 years, we decided to start with small goals. A comfortable 2.5 mile ride to — get this, a coffee shop along the scenic Baltimore & Annapolis Trail purported to sell the most delicious breakfast harvest cookies (sounds healthy, doesn’t it?) — and back.
We started at convenient parking at Earleigh Heights (mile marker 7.0). The ranger’s station is located in a quaint old Victorian building that was built in 1889 as a store, post office, and, you guessed it, train station. It was run as a store until 1943, and then was a private residence. The county obtained the property in 1988 and restored the building in 1990.
The B&A Trail runs for just over 13 miles between Glen Burnie and Annapolis, following the old Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. Managed by Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation, the trail is associated with the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), a national organization advocating for transforming abandoned railroad rights of way into public trails. In fact, you can still see evidence of the old railroad along the trail. There are switch boxes, sections of track, and the railroad station at Earleigh Heights, which serves as the ranger’s station.
So what is the Rails to Trails Conservancy? The RTC is responsible for the fact that these old railroad rights of way are now multi-use trails, and not just in very rural areas of the country, but also in densely inhabited suburban areas like the B&A Trail. The RTC advocates to protect and align public funding with trail building, working with local advocates in communities to build support for paths like the B&A Trail. The rail trails have grown from 250 miles of open rail trails in 1986, when the RTC was founded, to 13,000 miles of open rail trails, thanks in large part to the RTC’s efforts. Judging by how many folks were out two Saturdays ago enjoying the B&A Trail, these are efforts and tax dollars well-spent!
When we came to the coffee shop at mile marker 5.5 we decided to keep going a while longer. The day was one of those miraculous spring days and it felt great to be outside in warm, sunny weather.
|A sign that graced a gazebo rest spot along the trail.|
|The “goal”of the bike ride: a delicious treat!|
We continued another mile or two further along the trail, turning around at a maintenance station, and heading back to the coffee shop for what we thought was a well-earned cookie and a skim latte. The coffee shop thoughtfully offers picnic tables under trees, as well as water and a dog bowl for those who decide to hike along the trail with Fido. The cookie is worth the stop!
The trail for the most part is dead flat — the inclines are slight at their worst, so a good trail to start biking on if you’re returning to the sport or recovering after a winter of little exercise. Because the trail is located in such a crowded suburban area, it is likewise crowded with walkers, joggers, dog walkers, and bikers, including families with little children on bikes. Please be patient with the rest of humanity and observe trail etiquette. The least crowded time is early in the morning, before families with small children can get themselves organized and out the door.
Although the “park” is only 60 feet wide, many parts of it are wooded and it is relaxing to get away from the roads and the more suburban scenery of strip malls and shopping centers. It is also frankly interesting to peek into the backyards of homeowners along the trail. Many have superbly landscaped their back yards into what in summer must be lovely oasis-es. Even with such a narrow park, there is wildlife. On an early spring day we saw a lot of birds and the ubiquitous grey squirrels. There were also deer and what I believed to be fox prints in mud along the trail.
With energy to spare when we returned to the parking lot we decided to continue to enjoy the day by heading back to Downs Memorial Park, also in Anne Arundel County, to bike the perimeter trail — a good 5-mile addition to our earlier ride. Located on the Chesapeake Bay, Downs Park offers a variety of natural and recreational activities throughout its 236 acres. It also offers more than five miles of paved and natural trails, including a self-guided nature trail. Although more hilly than the B&A Trail, the hills are slight and over with quickly, so very doable. We encountered numerous friendly dog walkers enjoying the trail, but no where near the number on the B&A Trail. We even happened upon a bog turtle!
|A bog turtle at Downs Memorial Park. He wasn’t as
enthusiastic about meeting us as we were to meet him!
I am often asked how I find out about these places. I am an avid reader and curious as heck. And I’ve yet to run into someone I don’t want to talk to, so I often hear about places by word of mouth. But for the rails to trails, in addition to friends’ suggestions, I rely on two excellent books. If you’re interested in exploring rails to trails in the mid-Atlantic region, I recommend adding these to your library.
The first is Hiking, Cycling & Canoeing in Maryland, by Bryan MacKay (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). This family-oriented guide is divided into three parts, each concentrating on hiking and walking, biking, or canoeing (and kayaking). It provides detailed information about the length of and what to expect along the walks or rides, the difficulty, whether appropriate for children or families, and how to get there. I’ve found this book invaluable for providing ideas and tips for future day trips.
The second is Rail-Trails Mid-Atlantic The Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Guidebook (Wilderness Press, 2007). This guide covers rail trails in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC, providing a short description, mileage, end points, directions to access the trails, and a “roughness index” which so far seems fairly accurate. There also are Rail-Trails Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York (2011) and
Rail-Trails Southeast: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee (2006).
Tip #1: Stop at the B&A Trail Rangers Station at Earleigh Station to pick up maps and other information about the B&A Trail, and information about other nearby bike rides. There are also bathrooms and a water fountain.
Tip #2: It is possible to extend your ride on the B&A Trail by almost double by continuing beyond the north end of the B&A trail. A well-marked and paved connector trail leads to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) Trail, an 11-mile loop that is rather scenic and features an excellent location (and playground for kids) to observe arriving and departing aircraft at close range.
Tip #3: If you’re not into biking, both of these trails are pleasant walks/hikes.
|Don’t you want to be sitting there?|
Getting there: The park offers two parking lots: the northern lot is located at Earleigh Road, adjacent to the Ranger Station, at 51 West Earleigh Heights Road, Severna Park, MD 21146; the southern lot is located on Route 450 and Boulters Way at the trail’s end; in addition there are numerous shopping center lots on the east side of Route 2 that could be used, including the starting point of the trail at Marley Station Mall, at mile 2.8 near the junction of Route 100 and Route 2. Downs Memorial Park is located at 8311 John Downs Loop, Pasadena, MD 21122.
|Locust Cove in Downs Memorial Park.|
Hours: Parking lots for the B&A Trail are open daily dawn to dusk. Downs Memorial Park is also open dawn to dusk.
Dogs: Both are great trails for walking dogs and we encountered many happy pooches and their walkers along both trails. If you’re biking, be sure to greet and compliment well-behaved dogs. It breeds good will and helps keep relationships between the various trail users friendly and cordial.
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