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The MA & PA Heritage Trail is found in two segments (about 2 miles apart) through the wooded parks of Maryland's Bel Air and Forest Hill communities. The folksy sounding name actually stands for the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, which screamed through the Harford County countryside, heralding industrial progress of the early 1900s.
Today, a new kind of progress is evident in the sound of twittering birds and babbling brooks on the long-deserted rail line. This refreshing natural oasis found on the MA & PA Heritage Trail lures visitors and residents of the neighborhoods just steps from the path.
If you plan to travel both portions, use a map to determine the best on-road route between the two segments. Both have ample parking and are easy to navigate, with a surface of stone dust and some paving on slopes in the town of Bel Air.
The southern segment, starting in Bel Air, weaves through old stands of native trees, rising and falling with the dips of the landscape. For 3.3 miles it travels past streams, over bridges, through a tunnel, and across a boardwalk section between Heavenly Waters Park and Edgeley Grove Farm at Annie's Playground. This lovely green space provides a protected natural environment and a perfect setting for a stroll or jog.
From Forest Hill, the northern segment of the rail-trail meanders for 1.7 miles between Friends Park off Jarrettsville Road and Blake's Venture Park near Bynum Road and Melrose Lane. The trail travels among the forest past an enchanting marsh teeming with wildlife, and through tidy developments of suburban homes, a light industrial area and recreational ball fields.
North or south, the community parks framing the endpoints of the MA & PA Heritage Trail beckon you to slow down, enjoy a picnic or watch the sun go down.
To reach the northern endpoint of the Bel Air section from Interstate 95, take State Route 24 (Exit 77B) north toward Bel Air. Turn right on Baltimore Pike/US 1 Business, then turn left on Archer Street. Turn right on Thomas Street and make an immediate left on Williams Street. Go 0.5 mile to the trail parking lot on the left. There is also parking at the southern endpoint at Edgeley Grove and Annie's Playground (864 Smith Lane, Fallston, Maryland).
To access the northern endpoint of the Forest Hill segment, take SR 24 north from Bel Air through SR 23/East West Highway. Continue on Rock Spring Road/SR 24. Follow this for about 0.5 mile and turn right onto E. Jarrettsville Road; look for Friends Park on the right and turn right into the park. Follow the drive past the pond and up the rise to the trailhead. To reach the Melrose Lane endpoint, take Rock Spring Road/SR 24 to Bynum Road and turn northeast. Where Bynum curves east, turn left on Melrose Lane then left again into the parking area just a few hundreds yards farther.
Different parts of trail would be rated differently for different types of activities: road biking, hybrid biking, hiking, running and walking.
I have run from Williams St. toward Anne's Playground (with turn around near 2 mile mark on trail) and really like it for running, or walking or hiking.
Just finished hybrid bike starting at Anne’s Playground to Friend’s Park (using Rt. 24 – Bynum-Melrose Roads connection NEWS FLASH - Understand there will be connection opening soon from Williams St. to Melrose Ave soon. Check out web site for updates www.mapatrail.org or facebook.) and back.
Going downhill on paved path at start was great. While love wonderful wooden bridges to run, they are bumpy on bike. I like packed crusher run; but when not packed, the large loose stones have back tires slipping and teeth chattering.
Additionally, would be nice to have additional signage near Equestrian Center. Coming up loose rocky trail to paved path; should I make a right toward Equestrian Center Buildings and what looks like a parking lot from where I am or go left on narrower paved trail where people are running? Remember have never been there before! So after did that loop across tree roots, realized should have been a right.
Then street crossing and should make a right under art sculpture (love it) or continue straight up road where people are walking? Again remember never been here before! OK, should be right under sculpture, they were going to dog park! After next downhill, fairly sharp left to narrow paved path next to road.
Basically after got past 2 mile mark (near Harford Mall spur) it was nice trail. Yes, hilly and might still not recommend for those with road bikes. Perhaps when large gravel gets packed down over time it would be easier. After got to Williams Street, took roads to Rt. 24 (would suggest going straight so have traffic light for crossing Rt. 24), making left. That is relatively easy, watch traffic at Rt. 1 Bypass crossing. Right at first light Bynum Run Road to left on Melrose and Park on left. Picking up MA & PA Trail again. Again some large gravel in spots.
We recently took the trail bikes from the Winters Run parking area up to the Route 24 tunnel and found the conditions to be a bit rough with loose gravel and many ruts. The climb is tough enough without that so the ride was less than enjoyable. Also gravel sections on the lower end from Winters Run to toward Annie's tPlayground were in the same condition. Go
The second and better developed of the two (thus far) trail projects currently being developed along the old Maryland the Pennsylvania Railroad line (the much shorter Red Lion Mile is being constructed along a section in Red Lion, PA), the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail meanders through the woodlands and numerous subidivisions north and west of Bel Air, Maryland.
Starting at a park off Old Jarettsville Road in Forest Hills, the trail foillows the path of the old rail line, which was abandoned in the 1950's, whenever possible. Although many segments of the line were obliterated by development or other uses following abandonment, the trail planners have managed to work around most of these gaps, threading through the woodlands that form buffers between the numerous developments that have spilled over the area in the past several decades. The result is a very scenic, pleasant journey, with the sounds and sites of nature blending with the noise of playing children, the hum of cars on adjacent streets and, in spring and summer, aromas from outdoor barbeques. Many homeowners have embraced the trail by placing birdhouses and feeders, aesthetically pleasing picket fences and lawn ornaments and carefully planted gardens at the back end of their yards, which nicely compliment the numerous parks and recreation areas, stormwater basins-turned-into duckponds, overlooks and signs interpreting historical sites and indentifying wildlife that line the route. The surface, which alternates between asphalt and crushed stone at numerous points, provides a smooth ride or walk, and a small network of branch paths provide access to nearby landmarks, including the Harford Mall, Liondendron Mansion and several subdivisions and streets. The trail also passes near an Equestrian facility on the west end of Bel Air, then turns south to Annie's Playground near Fallston.
Currently, the biggest obstacle to trail users is an approximately 2-mile gap between Melrose Lane and Williams Street, which requires an extensive detour on Bynum Road, Routes 24 and 924 and local streets. Efforts are currently underway to connect the northern and southern segments of the trail, and a pedestrian tunnel has already been constructed to carry it under Route 1 when completed. There are also several slopes on segments of the trail that diverge from the original railroad alignment. However, most of these are gentle and will cause little discomfort to cyclists, the one exception being the branch path that extends from the bridge over Heavenly Waters southeast to the parking lot near Liondendron Mansion, which has a very steep grade. The tunnels under Routes 23 and 24 can also be a bit dark, especially on cloudy days.
With its extensive, informative signage, well-developed trailheads, lush scenery and a meandering route connecting numerous subdivisions, recreation and historical sites, the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail is a textbook example of a suburban greenway. When completed, it will provide the trunk of a trail network that will connect a significant part of the Bel Air area. The fact that it was constructed on a line that had been abandoned some 6 decades earlier, broken up and returned to property owners is even more remarkable. Hopefully, this will serve as a model for the ongoing efforts to develop trails on other segments of the "Old Ma and Pa Railroad."
This write up is old information.
The Belair section of the trail is now 3.29 miles and goes from the Williams Street parking lot to Annie's Playground. This section of the trail has some good elevation changes and is through some nice wooded areas.
The Forest Hill section is 1.7 miles. This is mainly flat, but there are a couple gently sloping hills. There are several roads to cross on this section of the trail. It also runs along the sidewalk of one of the roads.
See the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail web site located at http://www.mapatrail.org/ for better maps and elevation diagrams.
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