A grassroots effort that started with a mulch-covered path behind a local neighborhood could blossom into a system of trails and walkways between Eldersburg and Sykesville — on a swath of land already owned by taxpayers.
The push to create a link between area communities began last summer, when Eldersburg resident Ross Dangel founded The Freedom Trail effort by proposing a pathway. It reached its zenith with "Trail Blaze Day," when he and volunteers laid 60 yards of mulch along a path between the renovated sports fields at Springfield Hospital Center and MacBeth Way in September.
Local residents complained that they had no say in the process, and the county closed it down almost immediately. The project was not approved through the Carroll County government or supported by the Freedom Area Citizens Council, Commissioner Doug Howard said at the time. Dangel eventually withdrew himself from the process.
The group behind the latest proposal is made up of about 15 volunteers, representing the Sykesville parks and recreations department, the Freedom Area Recreations Council, the Springfield Hospital Center, the South Carroll Business Association and other organizations and groups, Carroll County Recreation & Parks Administrator Jeff Degitz said.
The board has met twice to identify destinations and populated areas that could be connected, and the Springfield Hospital Center property has stood out as a feasible solution, he said.
"Right in the middle of that geographic area is the Springfield Hospital Center, where you have a large tract of publicly owned land," he said.
Using the land, which spans hundreds of acres, would allow for connections as far south as Raincliffe Road and north to Liberty Road, and as far west as Sykeville Road and east to Slacks Road, Degitz said.
Locals have been looking for something like this for awhile, and using the hospital grounds makes sense, Delegate Susan Krebs, District 9B, said Wednesday.
"It's not high cost," she said. "It's paved, so it's a matter of making some access points … that the community is satisfied with."
Community members were invited to a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center for a presentation by a local advisory board on a concept for the Freedom Area Bike and Pedestrian Trails. It was the first public meeting since two hearings on the issue took place in October and January.
Degitz said once the community approves a plan, the county can apply for a Maryland Bikeways Program grant to pay for a feasibility study, which will assess the proposal for things like topography issues or environmental impact.
While Dangel had good intentions, the longer process of seeking input from the community is well worth it, Degitz said.
"I do think you end up with a better process and end result if you make that effort (to get input) rather than one individual … drawing a line and there it is," he said.
He stressed that the proposal is just that, and encouraged members of the community to continue the conversation.
"If you want to connect these destinations and communities, here's a way that you could do it," he said. "It's a starting point for that discussion."
Degitz said he will present the plan at the Carroll County commissioners meeting Thursday, where he hopes to get approval to apply for the grant.