BERLIN — Making Berlin a more bikeable and walkable community continued this week when Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT) representative Kate Patton met with the Town Council to brief them on an early concept plan to add trails to the area.
The concept plan focuses on three efforts: traditional trails around town, a “greenbelt” trail circumventing Berlin, and a trail from Berlin to nearby Assateague Island. Due to the project’s ambition, Patton warned the council that it should think of developments in terms of years.
“This is a long-term process. We’ve looked at models from other communities that unfortunately, and I hate to say it, they often take decades because there can be obstacles,” she explained. “But each piece that you add to it is really something to celebrate and it adds recreational opportunities and maybe some conservational opportunities going along.”
The trail system will be an organic and constantly growing project, said Patton, but individual, short-term additions to the network will still have a measurable impact. With the immediate trails that would be clustered around town, she told the council that the aim is to be practical and safe.
“Potentially trails in and around Berlin which would include safe routes for walking to schools, making it more accessible from residential areas to our parks,” said Patton, “which has been a priority, and also to shopping and amenities throughout town.”
The greenbelt trail would serve to frame Berlin and connect local trails. Patton stressed the importance of interlocking biking and walking paths that would allow town residents to explore Worcester County and the Eastern Shore. Synching trails with other towns and counties should continue to grow easier with more and more people looking to head outdoors.
“There’s a lot going on and this is an opportunity to stay abreast and participate and be moving along at the same speed,” said Patton, “so that as these opportunities to connect Berlin to these other trails happen that we really are poised to do that.”
Likewise, the third project Patton’s group identified, a trail between Berlin and Assateague, would highlight the beach and wildlife. She called the potential trail a “gateway” for outdoors enthusiasts.
All of the projects were brainstormed with extensive community input, according to Patton.
“It has incorporated really what the community interests are, the health benefits, lifestyle, recreation, and conservation,” she said.
Half a dozen “community workshops” were dedicated towards considering a trail system around town. Public comments were frequent, said Patton, and grant funding allowed for the use of a specialist as well.
“With the support of the Maryland Heritage Areas we received grant funding of $11,000 to hire a consultant,” she said.
Numerous suggestions came out of those workshops, including the proposal to couple trail development with Berlin’s ongoing stormwater projects. Conservationism, Patton reminded the council, is a dual goal between both programs. The trails could also be used to promote environmental stewardship and to teach students about wildlife and local fauna, she added.
“Then you could use those as learning opportunities, teaching opportunities and interpretive signs,” Patton said.
After presenting what has been brainstormed so far, Patton reiterated that it is only a “concept plan” and will change to fit the town’s interests. Right now taking advantage of funding from the state and federal level is where LSLT has set its sights. On the town’s end, Patton asked that the council remember the appeal of a functional trail system heading into the spring’s budget session as well as the need to generate community interest. Branding could help with the latter, she suggested.
“Really the first point that we’d like to see happen would be a unifying logo,” said Patton, “something that visually gives it a name and a visual slogan that you would have as a sign.”
Just by adopting the concept plan Berlin would be opening doors for new funding.
“It does, by adopting it, give us the opportunities to secure additional federal and state funding,” Patton said.
A walkable and bikeable Berlin has a lot of potential, according to Mayor Gee Williams who added that he recognized that a functional trail system would take years though immediate improvements are also possible.
“We can start relatively small and get some very visible aspects of the trail started, as you say, a piece here and a piece there,” he said.
An important factor will be finding a way to incorporate trail recommendations into the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the mayor continued.
“We do need to figure out a way that we can incorporate this in the overall town management plan that it has some flexibility but that we can never be choking ourselves off,” said Williams.
The council will have the next two weeks to study the full recommendations and findings Patton presented them. She will return for additional review at their next meeting later this month.