Trail of the Month: September 2002
Western Maryland Rail Trail, Maryland
Beginning about a half mile west of Fort Frederick State Park at the town of Big Pool, Md., in Washington County, the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) winds 20 miles westward along the Potomac River through rolling farmland and rural townships to its current western terminus at Polly Pond. For its entire route, the WMRT parallels the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath. Numerous crossings connect one path to the other, providing trail users with the opportunity to vary their views and their trail surface: the C&O Canal Towpath has a crushed stone surface and views of the canal and Potomac River; the WMRT, on the other hand, has some of the smoothest blacktop of any rail-trail around, making it a great inline skating trail while providing a secluded and wooded setting.
Like many rail-trail projects, the WMRT has been developed in stages. The project took its first steps in 1990 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased 20.3 miles of abandoned Western Maryland Railroad Line with about $1 million from Maryland's Program Open Space. The following year, the DNR formed the Western Maryland Rail Trail Citizens Advisory Committee. With assistance from numerous local, state and federal agencies, this committee played a prominent role in developing the WMRT master plan. The goals of the plan were to meet the diverse economic and recreational needs of the area.
Construction began in 1996 on the first 10 miles of trail from Big Pool to Hancock, Md. This section was completed in 1998, and Hancock was the trail's westernmost point until June 2001, when the second 10-mile construction phase was completed. Polly Pond, Md. is now the WMRT's western terminus, putting the small town of Hancock at the geographic center of the trail. Being at the center of things—at least in terms of the local rail-trail—has been great news for local businesses in Hancock, whose Main Street is just a half block from the trail's route through town. In the July 19 edition of The News Journal (Del.), Hancock Town Manager Lou Close noted the proximity of the trail to town, commenting, "It'll help restaurants, convenience stores, even the pharmacy... I'm definitely happy with the extension."
In addition to providing an economic boon to local businesses, the trail's presence should also help attract visitors to events such as the 26th Annual Canal Apple Days festival hosted by the Hancock Lions Club the weekend of September 14 to 15. Attractions include arts and craft opportunities, food vendors, a parade down Main Street, and a Tournament of Bands. The fesitval has entertainment planned throughout the weekend, including the Peruvian pan flute band, Andes Cosmos. All festivities on both days will start at 12 noon at Hancock's Widmyer Memorial Park in town. For more information on this festival, click here to e-mail the Hancock Lions Club.
By next summer, construction should begin on the WMRT's final phase, a 2.5-mile extension farther west to near Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct in Woodmont.