With the fate of the 2020 outdoor season looking extremely unlikely, running will look a lot different for many of us over the course of the next few months. It will, however, be a great time to step back and truly appreciate the places around us where we get to practice our sport. Our state may not be large, but it affords many unique running locations. From the open flat roads of the Eastern Shore to the Blue Ridge Mountains out west; from sprawling farmlands to bustling sidewalks and rail trails surrounding D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland has something for everyone.
Over the coming weeks we want to feature some of the best places in the state to run. We want to seek out the unique, the challenging and the scenic. We want to find the monster grass hills, the winding dirt trails and the quiet bike trails nestled inside urban gridlock. We even want to feature the best cross country venues and courses around the state!
Our first stop is the NCR Trail - officially known as the Torrey C. Brown Trail - up north in Baltimore County. The stone dust trail begins just east of Hunt Valley, just north of Dulaney High School, and runs 20 miles north to the Pennsylvania state line, passing near Hereford High School on the way. You can find information on the NCR Trail at these links:
Today's run began in Parkton, just north of Hereford High School and just shy of the 13 mile marker (the best address for the parking lot is 18858 Frederick Road Parkton, MD). The northern end of the section is more remote than the southern end, especially past mile 16. Additionally, while there are no major hills to speak of, the final few miles leading up into Pennsylvania do feature a noticeable slight incline as the path follows - and often crosses over - the gently-flowing Beetree Run (below).
The trail itself is easily wide enough to accommodate group runs and allows for comfortable passing, even in some of the more crowded sections. The trail crosses many roads - there are very few bridges that go over or under any of them - but fewer in the northern section of the trail, and many of them are small, one-lane back roads. Gentle curves interrupt series of long open straightaways, and depending on the time of day and year you may find yourself the only person around for a mile (or longer).
The trail activity picks up approaching the Pennsylvania state line, and the trail crosses the busiest intersection of the northern section at Freeland (above). From there it's only a little under a mile and a half to the Mason-Dixon line between Freeland and New Freedom, PA. The trail becomes the York County Heritage Trail on the other side of the border, shown below.
The NCR Trail runs along the old Northern Central Railway passage that closed in 1972 - the rail-trail opened twelve years later in 1984. For those interested in the history of the railroad and the surrounding area, there are signs along the trail offering information about some of the communities and historical markers along the way.
Popular among runners in Baltimore and surrounding Carroll and Harford counties, the NCR Trail is a must-visit for anyone within driving distance. The long, uninterrupted stretches of soft, flat surfaces, combined with plentiful tree cover and easy access makes it perfect for anything from a short jog to the longest of long runs, either together or in a group (although given the current state of the public health crisis surround the coronavirus we can't recommend group runs at the moment).
If you have a recommendation for a place to be featured in the coming weeks, let us know!