Trail of the Month: February 2006
Capital Crescent Trail, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
In the nation's capital, where Rails-to-Trails Conservancy first got its start, a crescent shaped rail-trail traces its way along 11 miles of unused right-of-way—the Georgetown Branch rail line of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The history of the Capital Crescent Trail, as it is so aptly named, is closely tied to RTC's own beginnings with many of the original RTC staff and board members contributing directly to the early efforts to have the trail built.
The history of the trail is one of persistence. Between 1910 and 1985, trains on the Georgetown Branch were relegated to carrying coal and building supplies. By 1985 the last train made its final trip on the line, then owned by CSX, and the rail company wasted little time in declaring its intention to let the right-of-way fall into disuse. Seeing an opportunity to preserve the public corridor, the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) was created in 1986 with the aim to convert the former Georgetown Branch line into a high quality, multi-use trail. From 1988 and 1990 CCCT worked with area organizations and agencies to purchase and railbank the line. Their efforts led to the Montgomery County government purchasing the right-of-way from Silver Spring, Md., to Washington, D.C. for $12 million, and the National Park Service acquired the right-of-way in the District of Columbia for $10 million.
Today, after much community involvement and hands-on work, the gentle grade of the Capital Crescent currently tracks a course starting just west of downtown Silver Spring—with on-street connections to that vibrant community—south through the center of the bustling Bethesda area, ending along the Potomac waterfront in trendy Georgetown.
Getting on the Trail
The easiest points to access the trail are at Silver Spring, Bethesda, Md., or Georgetown. Each of these areas is blessed with plenty of parking, restaurants and shopping. There are other access points all along the trail and CCCT's Web site provides a map and good directions to the best places to park. You can also access the trail by Metro from the Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rosslyn stations. Metro allows bicycles on their trains during off-peak hours and they provide Bike-'N-Ride guidelines on their Web site.
Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area residents are always on the move—and good health and exercise are key to this active lifestyle. Getting out on the Capital Crescent is a great way to keep fit. The seven-mile portion from Bethesda to Georgetown is paved and suitable year-round for walkers, joggers, wheelchair users, bicyclists and inline skaters. In winter months, after a decent snowfall, you may even see cross-country skiers on the trail. The National Park Service does plow its portion of the trail; however, Montgomery County does not. So, as with any paved surface in sub-freezing temperatures, be careful of ice patches.
The rest of the trail (approximately three miles), from Silver Spring to Bethesda, is officially called the Georgetown Branch Interim Trail, though many refer to it as the Capital Crescent, as well, This trail is a temporary stone-dust trail and is best ridden on hybrid or mountain bikes. During wet weather storm water can erode parts of the trail on this section so be on the look-out for uneven trail surfaces. CCCT is currently working to have the portions of the interim trail that are most affected, paved.
In Washington, D.C., the quickest way to get somewhere is not always by car. Aside from the daily recreational use the trail gets, CCCT estimates that 500-1000 commuters a day utilize the trail during the work week. In fact, the trail's authorities are so aware of the commuter usage, trail rules actually state that the trail is closed after dark except to commuters. A commute by bike on the Capital Crescent to and from the same location can often beat a commute by car. But beware—the trail has its own rush hour that coincides closely with that of local roads and at its most crowded the trail can verge on unpleasant. As with any crowded trail stay attentive and aware of your fellow trail-users.
A Means to an End
This urban trail weaves its way through bustling city centers and sedate wooded communities, connecting Silver Spring, Bethesda and Georgetown to their neighboring communities. Beyond commuting and recreation, many people use the trail just as a way to get somewhere: the local shops, a lunch date, a friend's house.
The Trail's Future
The Capital Crescent Trail will not officially be finished until it is a fully paved off-road trail out of downtown Silver Spring. CCCT continues to work to complete the trail and to provide features to make the trail more attractive and fun to use.