BERLIN — A Berlin group is proceeding with plans to build a network of nature trails in Worcester County.
“Our time has come,” said Kate Patton, who led the Plan Our Trails meetings held last Wednesday and Thursday nights in Berlin.
Patton, executive director of Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT), outlined the progress her group has made so far in preparing Worcester.
“There will be economic opportunities for the town as we go forward,” she told the crowd Thursday. “We have the health and wellness of the community involved too.”
Patton began the drive to develop a trail system around Berlin last summer when she approached the Mayor and Council representing what she felt was a substantial public interest. Since then, Patton has partnered with other agencies, including the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. The aim, she explained, is to have a trail system in place throughout Worcester linking major outdoor destinations like Assateague and Ocean City with population centers in the county.
In Patton’s vision, that web would expand over time to allow nature enthusiasts the ability to hike, walk, or ride a bike or horse across Worcester and would one day connect to the larger statewide collection of trails.
“And eventually we will have a network,” she said.
Before reaching that goal, Patton admitted that there will be hurdles to jump.
“Safety is a huge thing,” she said.
One of the most obvious hazards Patton addressed were hunters and how trail users could safely coexist with them.
Because some trails will likely be situated in densely wooded areas, which are popular with hunters, Patton asserted that awareness will be the best defense. Knowing the hunting seasons as well as what times of day hunters are out will be important. Beyond that, Patton expects that trails will avoid hunting areas as much as possible and have distinctive, cautionary signage when not possible.
Other obstacles include getting property owners onboard with the idea so sufficient land can be carved out for trails. Because Berlin has been growing and expanding up until this point with no plans for trails, most of the ideal real estate is already privately owned.
“It’s hard retrofitting,” said Berlin Councilman Troy Purnell.
Patton agreed and stated that cooperation with property owners will be vital if the program is to succeed.
Even with a tough road ahead, Patton was confident the benefits of crafting a trail system would be worth the effort.
“Trails can provide a way to educate people about our environment,” she said.
According to Patton, having a strong trail network would encourage and enable people to get outside and explore Worcester. There is a health improvement aspect from hiking and riding as well as learning a better appreciation of nature. At its most practical, Patton argued trails would boost Berlin and county revenue, mainly through tourism.
“This is not going to go anywhere if it’s not beneficial to business and the community as a whole, economically,” she said.
For now, Patton is collecting input from the community in the form of surveys, emails and public forums such as those held last week. She said that LSLT will continue to seek state and federal partners as well as local, like-minded groups, such as Grow Berlin Green.
“We’re working on all of that as we speak,” said Patton.
In the meantime, she wants to draft a master plan with ideas, goals, possible trail locations and strategies and presenting that to the council in the near future.
For more information, contact Patton at 410-641-4467.