BERLIN — The State of Maryland announced $2.3 million in Bikeway Program grants this week, including a $30,000 slice to go toward Berlin’s planned Walkable, Bikeable trail network.
The grant will be used to fund preliminary engineering work, and supporters of Walkable, Bikeable consider the money a solid foundation to build from.
The goal is to connect Berlin to Assateague and several surrounding areas with a trail system that would promote outdoor activity.
“We have tons of recreational opportunities for people to bike when you consider Assateague and West Ocean City and the various parks,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams. “We have a very natural area where this should develop.”
The space has always been there but it’s only over the past few years that a push for walking and biking trails has really shifted into high gear. Walkable, Bikeable hit a key point this week with the awarding of the $30,000 grant, which was applied for in June, according to Kate Patton, executive director of Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT).
Preliminary engineering is critical to lay the groundwork for mapping trails and Patton is excited to start the process.
“It will give us the information that we need going forward in terms of where a separate trail will be, where we need to focus resources, what kind of outreach we need to do for our scenic easements and where we have available signage,” she said.
Patton expects the preliminary engineering process to take about six months and should start soon. Actually laying physical trails is probably a few years down the line. It could take a decade or more for the entire trail network to be realized, said Patton, but early trails could be built within the next two to three years if funding holds steady.
With engineering, the expectation is to discover any remaining obstacles and identify the best areas to lay trails to take advantage of available space and to best connect natural areas. From there, Patton is hoping to keep the momentum rolling with some federal grant funding that Berlin has applied for and will find out about sometime this month. The initial $30,000 could just be the beginning.
“This would really give us a jumpstart should we get [additional] money,” said Patton. “This was really the foundation.”
Williams also looks for this week’s grant funding to be the first pebble of a rockslide. The push for Walkable, Bikeable really began more than two years ago but now that grants have been applied for and collected the schedule should clarify.
“It took a little more time than I think any of us expected but now that we’ve started I’m really optimistic that this is something where once we start hopefully it will never stop,” the mayor said.
Both Patton and Williams reported noticing residents in the Berlin area outside walking or biking more now than even four or five years ago. Connecting the town to natural areas like Assateague and some of the forested parts of Worcester County could mean a spider web of trails in the future.
“I expect over the next two or three years we’ll have at least one segment in place that’s going to be part of our greenbelt trail and that’s going to be a really awesome recreation trail in the long run,” said Patton, adding that Berlin and the county have both been incredible partners for Walkable, Bikeable and supportive of nature trails in general.
While working through preliminary engineering and waiting on additional funding, Patton wants to see some safety workshops put in place that will educate motorists and pedestrians to keep an eye out for each other. Funding for some of those already exists.
The $30,000 Berlin is receiving is part of the $2.3 million total state allocation for bike programs which benefited 23 projects in six counties and eight municipalities.
“Establishing a modern transportation system is more than building roadways, runways and railways, it means investing in projects that support alternative forms of travel like bicycling,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “These grants will help local jurisdictions grow and enhance their bicycle networks, a core component of our ongoing efforts to reduce both traffic congestion and Maryland’s greenhouse gas emission by 25 percent by 2020.”
The state would like to see bikes used as effective alternatives when traveling locally, something that lines up with Berlin’s own priorities. The State Highway Administration (SHA) and Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) are also getting involved. Over the next few years modernization of trails and bike routes are high on the state’s list.
“The O’Malley-Brown Administration has consistently supported our efforts to build a modern, interconnected transportation system that includes enhancing and expanding Maryland’s bicycle network,” said Transportation Secretary James T. Smith, Jr.