A proposal by Montgomery County Council member Blair G. Ewing (D-At Large) to ban paved trails in environmentally sensitive areas in county parks has stirred strong opposition from residents who say such a law would hurt the county's quality of life.

At a hearing last week, Chevy Chase Mayor Mier Wolf told the council that the local network of trails is "one of the benefits of living" in Montgomery County. "Our trails are very important to our residents," he said.

Others argued that not having additional paved trails in the future would "restrict public access" to parks, not only for people with disabilities but also for senior citizens and families with small children who use strollers.

Last month, Ewing proposed banning hard-surface or asphalt trails in environmentally sensitive areas such as stream valley parks, steep slopes and wetlands, citing the move as an effort to protect the county's water quality. The ban would affect existing and new parks.

"People understand that I've raised an important issue," Ewing said. "Many streams are already damaged." Asphalt trails, he added, increase runoff of sediment, chemicals and mud into park creeks and streams, which ultimately flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

Ewing said he proposed the ban after learning that staff of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission had proposed paving the Mathew Henson trail in Aspen Hill, which connects the Rock Creek and Sligo Creek trails, and a trail in the Muddy Branch park in Potomac.

According to Charles Loehr, director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, just about every paved trail that exists now in county parks, with the exception of the Capital Crescent trail, would have been affected if such legislation existed when the trails were being built. Currently, there are 65 miles of paved trails in county parks.

Supporters of the proposal say it is necessary to stop paving trails in areas that threaten the county's waterways and delicate ecosystems.

"Stream valleys provide flood control and sediment filtration, [and] they provide wildlife habitat," Ron LaCoss, of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club, said at the hearing. "We should be doing everything to protect the Chesapeake."

Denise Hammond, of the North Potomac Civic Association, added that such a law would help "meet park interests in an environmentally safe manner."

Opponents, meanwhile, told officials that Ewing's proposal does not recognize that trails provide another path for transportation and one possible way to ease the county's traffic dilemma.

"As the metropolitan Washington area continues to grow in population and land area, we need transportation choices," said Ellen Jones of the Washington Area Bikers' Association. She said members of her organization and others use county trails to commute to work or travel around their communities on weekends.

After last week's hearing, Ewing said he will probably hold a meeting to gather further comment on the proposal. The issue will go before the full County Council in the fall.