Trails Across America

Vol. 8, No. 26
June 29-July 5, 2000
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By foot or paddle, from Annapolis you can get most anywhere
By Connie Darago

From riding The Wabash Cannonball to getting our kicks n Route 66, to automobiles, we Americans have traveled our country. Now, like the first explorers, we can do it by foot or canoe. And it all starts in Annapolis.

“Hobo Ballad”
From the great Atlantic Ocean to the wide Pacific shore
To the queen of flowing mountains to the southbell by the door
She’s long and tall and handsome and loved by one and all
She’s the modern locomotion called The Wabash Cannonball

–attributed to early 20th century novelist Theodore Dreiser or his brother Paul Dresser

There’s a new way to discover America.

From the beginning, dreamers imagined a great highway right across the continent of North America. After the Louisiana purchase in 1803, the idea of a transcontinental route took a firm hold in American imaginations.
Expeditions were organized and explorers began their ventures across the continent in 1810.

The nation got bigger when Canada settled the Oregon boundary dispute, California was bought from Mexico, the Mormons settled Utah and gold was discovered on the western seaboard. The growing nation needed rapid transport.

By 1916, our nation had the largest railroad system in the world. Ribbons of steel linked town to town, city to city, region to region and shore to shore. But in the 20th century, change was as rapid as transport. Cars, trucks, buses and airplanes muscled out the railroads. Today less than half of our original rail system remains, and 2,000 more miles of track are abandoned every year.

In the 21st century, we are finding new ways to tour from “the queen of flowing mountains to the southbell by the door.”

Millennium Trails

Reaching out for an alternative to our remaining railways and super highways, America is returning to its roots, rediscovering its trails.

Today trails zig-zag the landscape. From the earliest routes of our ancestors to new urban greenways, they tell the story of our nation, making connections between people, land, history and culture. Trails — some old, some new — give 21st century adventurers a new way to see and enjoy the home of the brave and the land of the free.

Under a national initiative of the White House Millennium Council, the year 2000 was chosen to recognize, promote and stimulate trails to honor the past and imagine the future. Partners are the Department of Transportation, Rail-to-Trails Conservancy, the American Hiking Society and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Millennium Trails — our national initiative to protect greenspaces and preserve history by creating a network of trails across America — divide into three categories:

• Sixteen National Millennium Trails, large visionary projects where people can walk or bike to national wonders, trace historic canals and commercial routes or commemorate trails of discovery and migration.

• Fifty-two Millennium Legacy Trails, selected to reflect the unique spirit of the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

• Two thousand Community Millennium Trails, bringing trails directly to people.

Many of these trails will pass through Maryland and its capital. Of the 16 historic trails, five will run through Maryland.

Annapolis hit the jackpot. It will be the crossroads for The American Discovery Trail, East Coast Greenways, the Civil War Discovery Trail, the Underground Railroad — as well as part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Waterways.

Existing trails — The Baltimore & Annapolis Trail, Colonial Annapolis Maritime Trail and The BWI Trail, in addition to the Poplar Trail due for completion in July — will be spurs and connectors as the larger trails wind their way through Annapolis.

So central is Maryland to the Millennium Trails initiative that to kick off the project, First Lady Hillary Clinton walked the B&A Trail with U.S. senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski plus Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater returned to Annapolis last March to divide $320,000 among the nation’s 16 National Millennium Trails.

Annapolis’ newest trail, due to be finished in days, will link the city’s pathway system to city, county, state and national trails. It’s the Poplar Trail, running from Taylor Avenue — near Gateway Circle on West Street and Germantown Elementary School — to Poplar Avenue. The half-mile paved hiker-biker trail follows the old Washington Baltimore and Annapolis rail line.

Annapolis’ Own Poplar Trail

Just how many steps does it take to cross America? A million, a ga’zillion?

The day was warm with the spring sun peeking through high puffy clouds when the schoolchildren of Annapolis Germantown Elementary considered that question. Sounds of laughter and squeals filled the air as children swung and played tag on the school playground. As recess ended, the children crossed the schoolyard to the corner of Poplar Avenue.

There waited four eager trailblazers, the American Discovery Trail’s first cross-country team. Just in from Cape Henlopen State Park on Delaware’s Atlantic coast, the foursome were making Annapolis the first stop on their journey across America. At the very corner where kids and trailblazers met, the old Washington Baltimore and Annapolis rail line will soon join the American Discovery Trail.

The team had come to share their story of biking across the country via the big trail. Which is what the kids and Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson were waiting for.

The kids were ready for them. They had been studying American history and geography, learning about the new Discovery Trail that would pass by their school. Not only would the trail run beside them, they would be following from their classroom via the Internet as the cross-country adventure team journeyed across America.

Barely seated on the ground, excited children pumped questions as fast as the team could answer.

How many miles is the Trail? How long will it take you to get to California? Where will you sleep? Will you be going to other schools?

The team took turns answering the inquisitive children and sharing their stories.

Team Captain Brian Stark, of Tucson, Arizona, told how he had run 30 miles a day, seven days a week, across 13 states through cold nights, intense summer heat, desert flash floods and hail storms. That was 1998, and he was running across America on the first complete pedestrian crossing of the Trail. Running alone without vehicle support, he sometimes slept on a stone picnic table and for meals ate only candy at tiny gas stations. For a drink of water, he knocked on the doors of strangers.

“It was a wonderful learning experience,” the bubbly 27 year-old Stark said. “I want to visit every school, town, crossroad and ranch and tell the great people of America, I’m back and the American Discovery Trail is open.”

“How many steps does it take to cross America?” asked Stark. Answers flew from the captivated audience. A million, a ga’zillion?

“No,” said Team Captain Stark, “Ten million, seven hundred ten thousand. I know. I counted them as I walked the unofficial trail in 1998.”

To join in just such a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, 40-year-old Donna Loop, of Washington, D. C., quit her job. The school- children were all ears as she spoke of the five-month trip ahead.

“I’ve done many things in the past,” said Loop. “Run in the Marine Corps, New York City and JFK Ultra marathons, hiked the Virginia Appalachians and sea kayaked in the Virgin Islands. I’ve never been as excited or intrigued about the opportunity to connect with the land and people. It will be a rich and rewarding experience and you’ll be sharing it with us by following our journey on the Internet and reading stories in your local papers.”

The third member of the team, Don Dickinson of Front Royal, Virginia, is just as seasoned a cross-country traveler. In 1996, he told the Germantown students, he walked from Massachusetts to Washington State — via Orlando and San Francisco. On his year-and-a-half journey, he covered 5,000 miles.

“I’m not searching for happiness,” he said. “It’s the searching that makes me happy.”

The rookie of the team, Stacy Leach of Indianapolis, teased the kids’ interest by trying to stump them on their knowledge of geography. But they were way ahead of her.

“Does anyone know the route of the American Discovery Train?” Leach asked. Answers echoed from across the crowd. East Coast to West Coast. Delaware to California. Across the whole country. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

She praised their knowledge and encouraged them. “Get out on your local trail or spur and take a short walk,” she told them. “You’ll feel better for it.”

The ceremony got official as Mayor Dean Johnson whizzed up in his little Miata to receive a plaque from the adventure team, commemorating Annapolis as an American Discovery Trail Town.

“The Poplar Trail along this old railroad route will become part of two National Millennium Trails, The American Discovery Trail, and the East Coast Greenway, as they wind their way through Annapolis,” said Johnson. “It also is the final link connecting the Colonial Annapolis Maritime, B&A and BWI Trails.”

The Poplar Trail work should be ready by August, said Annapolis Recreation and Parks director LeeAnn Bogan.

With so many links, connectors, spurs and new trails, the Annapolis trail system is a bit of a maze. To navigate the trails, call for a copy of the city’s trail flyer: 410/263-7959.

Discovering America — On Foot

“Annapolis has become ground zero for trails,” says Annapolis Pathways coordinator Steve Carr.

Which means that if one of the Germantown kids — or you — were to follow Poplar Trail half a mile, you’d be where the adventurers go: on the American Discovery Trail. From here you could keep going 6,000 miles or so.

The American Discovery Trail is a new breed of national trail, part city, part small town, part forest, part mountains, part desert. Its 6,300-plus miles of continuous multi-use trail stretch from Cape Henlopen State Park, in Delaware, to Point Reyes National Seashore, in California. Along the way, the Trail passes through 15 states plus such major cities as Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Cincinnati. It traces pioneer trails, leads to 14 national parks and 16 national forests and visits more than 10,000 sites of historic, cultural and natural significance. Thirty-two million Americans live within 20 miles of the trail; 100.5 million live in the states through which it passes.

America’s first non-motorized coast-to-coast trail, it is also the backbone of the national trails system, connecting five national scenic and 10 national historic trails, 23 national recreational trails and many other local and regional trails.

The Trail snakes through 269.8 Maryland miles in four segments.

1. 41.9 miles: From the Delaware line to the Chesapeake Bay, passes through Eastern Shore via rural roads, the Denton Greenway and the planned Hillsboro Rail Trail, which leads to Tuckahoe State Park. As the trail continues to the Chesapeake Bay, inlets and wetlands border its approach to the Kent Narrows Island Greenway and the Bay Bridge.

2. 43.5 miles: From, the Bay Bridge, entering historic Annapolis via Whitehall Road, the Trail crosses the Severn River Bridge past the Naval Academy gate to King George Street and then to Taylor Avenue past State Circle and Navy Marine Memorial Stadium and onto Poplar Avenue, where we began. The route continues on to Bowie and Greenbelt.

3. 17.4 miles: To Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

4. 167 miles: To Old Town, in Western Maryland, via the C&O Canal Towpath.

Creating such an integrated and complex trail system was the work of a decade. After a backpacker with the American Hiking Society conceived the idea in 1989, a scouting team made the 14-month 4,820-mile trip. Throughout the 1990s, the concept bounced around Washington. Finally, in millennial enthusiasm, the American Discovery Trail was named one of 16 National Millennium Trails. The Trail opened in April, at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, with our four adventurers — Brian Stark, Donna Loop, Don Dickinson and Stacy Leach — setting off cross country.

By the first of June, the team had reached Colorado.

“They’ve been busy, stopping in more than 50 schools, performing trail maintenance and helping build structures,” we learned from American Discovery Trail Society executive director Chris Voell. “They’ve ridden to the top of the arch in St. Louis, to the northernmost part of the trail in Iowa and the highest point, over 13,000 feet, in Colorado.”

From Maine to Key West

If you’d rather your adventure be Atlantic, the Poplar Trail could carry you to the East Coast Greenway.

“Annapolis is the only city in the United States to have two national trails convey,” says Carr, local environmental activist and trail athlete. He should know how difficult that trip could be; he’s crossed America by bicycle — twice.

Once the East Coast Greenway is completed in 2010, you’ll be able to choose your direction. Choose north, you’d travel to Maine. Follow the southern route, you end up in Key West.

The East Coast Greenway will be the nation’s first long-distance, city-to-city, many-mode transportation corridor for cyclists, hikers, and other trail lovers — minus motors.

This one began in 1991 as the vision of a group of cyclists and trail enthusiasts from New England and the Mid Atlantic. Their goal was to connect existing and planned trails into a continuous, safe and readily accessible green route.

In 1992, nine cyclists pioneered the trail in a 30-day journey through 15 states.

The completed Maine to Key West route will be an urban alternative to the Appalachian Trail, meandering in the shadows of skyscrapers and within suburban greenspace as well as in surviving rural enclaves. Rather than taking travelers deep into the woods, the East Cost Greenway will show the breadth of human activity and American history, running through most capital cities along the coast as well as major college campuses, local, state and national park systems and by fishing ports, museums and lighthouses. The route is planned to be 80 percent off-road, using water esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroads, canal towpaths and park corridors.

This National Millennium trails are to the East Coast what the American Discovery Trail is to the nation: a spinal cord joining local trails and linking other long-distance trails.

Trails Back in Time

“Trails are becoming the teaching tools of history,” says Karen Votava, director of the East Coast Alliance.

She’s right.

In the near future, you’ll be able to use two new trails in Annapolis for mind as well as foot adventure.

The Civil War Discovery Trail, created to tell the story of the American Civil War and its enduring impact on nation, touches more than 500 sites in 28 states most east of the Mississippi. It will eventually run from former slave states to Canada and Mexico.

The trail includes battlefields, historic homes, stations on the Underground Railroad, cemeteries and parks. Among designated Trail sites are Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln was assassinated; Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest one-day battle in American history; and ante-bellum plantations in Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana.

As usual, Annapolis is right in the middle of it. “We’re excited about the Civil War Trail,” says Steve Carr, who adds that a segment will run through Annapolis and use the city trail system.

Many of the same sites and stops will be on a second historic Trail following the Underground Railroad. It, too, will cross Annapolis.

The term Underground Railroad appeared about 1840. Neither underground nor a railroad, it was a secretive enterprise — sometimes spontaneous, sometimes highly organized — that helped assist persons in North America escape from slavery. Perhaps as many as one hundred thousand slaves escaped via the Underground Railroad.

It supported runaway slaves with local services as they made their way from one point to another. Routes extended into western territories, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The number of possible sites and structures associated with the Underground Railroad story is immense. It is a vast network of paths and roads, swamps and mountains, along rivers and even by sea. Most cannot be documented with precision.

What route will the Railroad take locally? We’ll have to wait and see.

“The Underground Railroad is complicated,” says Carr. “It will use some of the links and both the American Discovery Trail and East Coast Greenway through the city. Definite sites and structures have yet to be identified.”

Congressional funding was approved for the Underground Railroad project in 1990, and the National Park Service began creating a path retracing the steps of the Railroad.

The Civil War Discovery Trail began two years earlier as a grassroots efforts to keep a shopping mall off of the Bull Run Battlefield in Manassas, Virginia. The federal government saved the battlefield, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service have joined with the Civil War Trust, state tourism and historic preservation agencies and communities touched by the war to create the new trail.

Water Trails

If you’d rather paddle your history than walk it, Chesapeake Country is still your hub, for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network laps at our doors. The brainchild of U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the great envisioned trail “connects sites like a string of pearls throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Just this week, the first 23 pearls were named. Ten are in Maryland: Barge House Museum in Annapolis, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard, plus one in Accokeek, one in Monocacy and six on the Eastern Shore As well as honor, the sites get funding, ranging from $8,530 to develop an interpretive water trail map and markers at Monocacy Battlefield to $40,000 for interpretive exhibits at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels and a regional visitor center at Easton Airport. Barge House gets $10,000 to create waterfront access; Jefferson Patterson gets $20,000 for five interpretive panels on the War of 1812.

“It’s a first for the Bay,” says staffer Charlie Stek.

“This will be the first national water trail system in the country. The closer people are associated with the Bay, the more experience they have on the Bay, the greater their concern and attention is going to be.”

When completed in several years, the network of land and water trails will be divided into six regions, each with information centers, like the upcoming one in Easton, pointing visitors to roads, trails, water links and programs.

Along the trail, all who come may fish, hike and kayak; get to know the plants and wildlife of the Bay in their natural habitat along a system of natural trails and paddle boat trails; experience Bay economics by seeing working crab and oyster boats; lend a hand to Bay restoration; and explore the history of the Chesapeake through historical reenactments and museums

“In the end,” says project manager for the National Park Service Jonathan Doherty “the places of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed will be linked to the people through both places and stories.”

Close to Home

The Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park, a 13.3-mile linear park, follows the route of the Old Baltimore and Annapolis Short Line Railroad from its northern origin in Glen Burnie.

“The B&A Trail Park is a shining example of how successful paths can be,” says trail superintendent David Dionne. “It’s also a reminder to officials and residents of how local projects can have big impacts. Every time a local trail project is funded, it makes a contribution on a national level. When we act locally here, we’re thinking nationally.”

A shining example indeed: The B&A Trail Park has become the most popular park in all Maryland.

The unique trail encompasses 112 acres. The corridor, a paved surface 10 feet wide, is shared by walkers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians. It rambles past suburban communities, wetlands, mature deciduous forest, pastures and meadows. It’s home to cottontail rabbits, squirrel, deer, owls, hawks and many kinds of birds.

Historical structures, electric train powerhouses, switch boxes and the old Severna Park Station make the old rail trail distinctive. The trail is easily accessed from several spots along its path.

Like the Poplar Trail, the B&A was laid with help from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a 13-year-old national non-profit that has established over 700 trails across America.

Trails are turning up all over America, as you know if you’ve ever been on — or next to — the Baltimore Washington International Trail along the perimeter of BWI Airport.

Many sections of the 11-mile trail are surprisingly peaceful, despite the close proximity to the airport runways.

The ride through the young pine forest in Friendship Park is very pleasant, and Andover Park, at the north side of the airport, gives a great overlook of the general runway.

As it winds its way around the airport, you’ll find a short trail spur accessing the B & A Trail.

Full Circle

If you think you’re physically and mentally ready, come August, you can step out on the new Poplar Trail. From there, America is your oyster.

“You could get on the Annapolis Maritime Trail, connect to the B & A Trail, get on the East Coast Greenway to Canada, follow the Canadian Trail to the Pacific Ocean, then cross country via the American Discovery Trail back to Annapolis,” Carr says.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly