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  • Although Jon Korin (right) is not a Trailblazer, Ranger Susan Payne (left) described him as “a big asset” to the volunteer group.
    Although Jon Korin (right) is not a Trailblazer, Ranger Susan Payne (left) described him as “a big asset” to the volunteer group.
  • Neal Smith still manages to do about 38,000 miles on his recumbent trike despite his back problems.
    Neal Smith still manages to do about 38,000 miles on his recumbent trike despite his back problems.

Trailblazer Awards Recognize Volunteers Who Make Recreation Better, Safer And More Accessible

Shane Jacobus and Dylan Roche
Shane Jacobus and Dylan Roche's picture
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November 3, 2017

Trailblazer: (noun) a person who makes a new track through wild country; a pioneer; an innovator.

For the Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails, the idea of a trailblazer has another meaning — it’s a goodwill ambassador, or somebody who is there to help.

At its annual meeting every fall, the Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails group recognizes its Trailblazers, volunteers who go out of their way to make the community’s recreational trails a safer and more accessible place for everyone.

Among the honorees at this year’s meeting were Severna Park’s Neal Smith and Jon Korin, who accepted awards alongside county residents Dan Dosch and Thomas Caraker III.

“These awards are for different purposes, but they recognize a job well done,” said Susan Payne, park ranger for Anne Arundel County Trails, who heads the Trailblazers program. “Volunteers don’t have to be out here, and they’re putting in their own time.”

The Trailblazer Awards are not necessarily for the volunteers who put in the greatest number of miles on the trail. Although Neal Smith doesn’t ride his recumbent trike for nearly the length he used to ride it in the past — he estimates he used to do as many as 5,000 miles a year, and now he does about 3,800 — he is still an active part of the Trailblazers through his participation in meetings and other events. “He’s been a Trailblazer for a long time,” Payne said. “He is very good at presenting new ideas, ways to do things better; he’s just a strong leader for the Trailblazers. Neal is very, very good.”

Smith started riding a recumbent trike after developing flatback, a condition in which the spine stands straight instead of curved, which prevents him from standing for more than two minutes or sitting for more than 25. “Part of my therapy was riding a recumbent trike, so I was on the trail every day,” he said. “A ranger stopped me and said, ‘You should join the Trailblazers,’ and I did.”

That was in 1999, and in the 18 years since, Smith has helped countless people out on the trail, whether it is something as simple as giving them directions to Kinder Farm Park or as major as fixing their flat tire with the pump he carries on him while cycling.

One of his other projects was undertaken with fellow award recipient Tom Caraker. “Tom and I used to get orange paint and circle all the potholes along the trail,” he said. “Runners don’t notice them, but if a bike hits one of those holes at high speed, it’ll give you a jolt. There’s a real bad section from Severna Park through Round Bay.”

Severna Park’s other honoree this year was Jon Korin, founding president of Bicycle Advocates of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (Bike AAA). “Jon’s not a Trailblazer, but he is a big asset to us,” Payne said. “He’s on the bike commission with the county executive, and he has a lot of connections that our Trailblazers don’t.”

For the past four years, Korin has tirelessly lobbied at the state and county level on behalf of Bike AAA. He had four immediate goals: increase safe bicycling through education and improved conditions; partner with the City of Annapolis to attain bronze bike-friendly community status from the League of American Bicyclists; provide a forum and stronger voice for bicycling; and improve bicycling conditions and choices both on and off road. Although the group is still working toward attaining a bronze status, it has made significant progress at its other three goals under Korin’s leadership.

In 2014, Bike AAA began a partnership with Anne Arundel County Police and Recreation and Parks to hold the annual Lifeline 100 Century Ride and community health fair. Later that year, Korin became chairman of the newly formed Anne Arundel County Bicycle Advisory Commission, which advises the county executive, county council, and all county departments on the implementation of the Anne Arundel County Pedestrian/Bicycle Master Plan.

Despite all that he has accomplished during his tenure as president of Bike AAA and chairman of the Bicycle Advisory Commission, Korin is still determined to help both organizations with their goals of promoting bicycling and improving infrastructure. “The most important thing,” he said, “is to build a safe, interconnected network of bike routes that includes trails and bike lanes.”

The other two recipients of this year’s Trailblazers Awards were Tom Caraker and Dan Dosch, both of whom might be recognizable to anyone out and about on the trail frequently. “Tom Caraker has been a trailblazer for 20 years,” Payne said. “This is a guy who spent 518 hours on the trail. Tom without fail — without fail — wears his Trailblazer vest every time he is out on the trail so he can be recognized. He goes out there well equipped and doesn’t hesitate to help. They call him the mayor of the trail.”

She also praised Dosch, saying, “He comes to these meetings prepared, has suggestions and is prepared to make Trailblazers a better organization. I’m fortunate to have a great group of volunteers.”

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