Final piece of Md. trail decades in the making finally coming together

The completed WB&A Trail will be 15 miles long and connect Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. (WTOP/John Domen)

The idea behind the WB&A Trail goes back nearly 30 years, and for more than a decade, parks and rec departments in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland have worked to make it a reality.

The Patuxent River has been a sticking point since day one, but on Friday, local officials and advocates gathered to break ground on work to finally literally bridge that one dividing line.

On the Prince George’s County side, the trail runs from Lanham past Horsepen Park in Bowie, and ends right on the banks of the Patuxent. In Anne Arundel County, the trail meanders through woods and new developments in Odenton and down about a mile-long incline, stopping right on the other side of the Patuxent.

But within about a year, a $5 million bridge will help create a single, roughly 15-mile trail that also provides another crossing from Bowie to western Anne Arundel County. Currently, the only way to get between the two is by hopping in a car and crawling through gridlock up an overloaded Route 3.

“Back in the day, I think we had transportation sort of figured out,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. “We’re going back to rail; we’re going back to trails.”

The trail runs along the old Washington, Annapolis & Baltimore Railroad, which has long since disappeared.

“Being able to get across the river and connect to our friends on the other side in Prince George’s County is going to make it possible for us to go on much longer walks, much longer bike rides, and much longer runs, for those of you who are fit enough to do that,” Pittman said.

Construction of the trail goes back to 2004. It’s about 10 feet wide and fully paved, and this particular bridge will be a similarly paved surface, as opposed to the wooden bridges that often carry trails over other rivers and streams.

But this single bridge is also one of many steps the county is trying to take to make it easier to get around without a car. Numerous other trails are at various stages of completion and will eventually connect places such as Odenton and Crofton further north and east in the county.

“It started out as a rec trail,” said Jessica Leys, who heads Anne Arundel County’s Parks and Recreation Department. “And as we have evolved through time and the interest to get more people off the road system and on to the bike system, it has become an infrastructure of transportation more than just recreational use.”

Jon Korin, who leads the Bicycle Advocates of Anne Arundel County, said you shouldn’t underestimate its importance to more than just those who live near the trail right now.

“It’s important regionally, because we have a vision for an Anne Arundel County trail network that will provide a hub and spokes that will enable people from all over the county to get from the neighborhoods they live in to the destinations they want to get to,” said Korin.

He said it’s part of several national trail networks too, including the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile route from Key West to Calais, Maine; the American Discovery Trail, an east-west Atlantic to Pacific route; and the Sept. 11 Memorial Trail, a 1,300-mile route that connects The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“Many of those national routes use roads,” Korin said, “because there are just huge gaps in the trail network. But little by little, as bridges like this get built and close those network gaps, those three national trails will all re-route from the roads they use now.”

The goal is to have the new bridge finished around June 2023. Pittman said he’s hoping to ride his bike down the trail to the bridge for a ribbon cutting over the Patuxent, where he’d be met by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, on her bike riding in from the Bowie side.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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