Scenic Run: Exploring Harford County’s hilly MA & PA Heritage Trail

Here’s a view from the MA & PA Heritage Trail. I ran there Saturday. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

This past weekend, I went to Bel Air, Maryland, for a CPR and First Aid class, and I was excited to finally run on the MA & PA Heritage Trail. I heard about this rail trail a while ago, but just hadn’t really been in the area or had a good opportunity to run on it.

Although I’d looked up a small amount of information about the trail, I did not check the elevation. I figured it would be flat, or at least relatively flat, since it was a rail trail. Well, you know what happens when you assume. I was wrong.

But I didn’t mind, because I have been making an effort to run hills during my training for the Freedom’s Run Marathon on Oct. 6.

Here’s one of the “Steep Slope” signs. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

However, the hills certainly affected my pace. I ended up walking a decent amount, but I still got to experience the types of hills that just aren’t found here on the Eastern Shore. When I run hills in Salisbury, I never reach the types of elevation gain that I can in other places.

My seven-mile run included 688 feet of elevation gain, which was my highest elevation gain on a run since the Vermont City Marathon two months prior.

I started at the Williams Street trailhead and ran a little more than 3.3 miles to Annie’s Playground. There were mile-markers every quarter mile. At one point, I came across another parking lot, and I wasn’t sure if the trail was ending. But the mile markers had not gone down to zero, so I decided to cross the street and continue on. The Harford County Farm Fair also happened to be going on at the time, and there was a law enforcement officer stopping cars so pedestrians could cross the street.

The trail is mostly crushed stone, with some boardwalk parts as well. There were a few signs marking a “Steep Slope,” and it appeared to be well-used, with other runners and walkers on the trail. I think I even saw someone there to pick up trash. I enjoyed the varied scenery, and I also appreciated the shade that the trees provided during the first and last portions of my run.

This mini stretch of railroad was off to the side of the trail. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

On my way back, I noticed someone was stopped, so I also stopped to see what she was looking at. There were animals beyond the boardwalk portion of the trail, but they were hidden by some plants. However, they appeared to be deer.

I ran the Bel Air section and the Edgeley Grove section, which are detailed on the MA & PA Heritage Trail website.

I had originally wanted to do my scheduled long run of 16 miles, but the CPR and First Aid class started at 9 a.m. and took several hours, so by the time I began running, it was hot. I was also dealing with the hills, and chafing — which became even worse when I ran again on Sunday. I’d also only eaten a couple doughnuts and an UnTapped waffle, so I wasn’t really fueled for a long run. I did have a late lunch after my run.

This view could be seen from the Edgeley Grove section of the MA & PA Heritage Trail. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I brought a water bottle with me that I drank from as I ran, but unfortunately I couldn’t refill it because the water fountain at Annie’s Playground did not appear to be working (unless I couldn’t figure it out). The water fountain at Williams Street was, though, so I refilled it when I returned to my car.

Here’s a view from the boardwalk section of the trail, which is part of the Edgeley Grove section. 

According to the MA & PA Heritage Trail website, there’s another section in Forest Hill, with plans to connect the sections. I didn’t explore that section on this run, but it could be something to check out in the future, as I enjoyed my run on the Bel Air portion.

Let me know if you have suggestions of trails I should check out in Maryland or the region! I always enjoy exploring new trails and places to run. 

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