End in sight for work on Western Maryland Rail Trail extension to Little Orleans

Don Sager heads west on the beginning section of the Western Maryland Rail Extension from Pearre to Little Orleans on Thursday afternoon, March 28. Sager, who started in Big Pool on his new bike, said once the new section of trail is open, he’d be heading out toward Little Orleans.

by Geoff Fox

An extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail from Pearre to Little Orleans west of Hancock is scheduled to open this year. State officials offered no details on the work done so far.

Work on the extension was to start in October of 2017 and projected to cost $5 million, with funding from the Maryland Department of Transportation and the DNR.

The parking lot for the Rail Trail on Pearre Road is just over seven miles off Western Pike (MD Rt. 144). Work started near C&O Canal Lock 56, about .3 miles from the lot.

DNR Media Relations Manager Gregg Bortz said he’s “still waiting on our engineering folks for any updated figures” on the cost of the rail extension so far.

Bortz did say the section would be open this year. According to an October 4, 2017 Hancock News report, under the construction contract, the trail was to be finished this month.

The extension, when completed, will extend the trail from its current ending point in Pearre another 4.5 miles to Little Orleans, west of Hancock.

According to Michael Cavanaugh, Procurement Officer in the Department of General Services, the project is 97% complete.

A worker for the Charles J. Merlo General Contractors, the company building the trail said last week that the project should be done in three weeks to a month.

Fort Frederick Park Manager Angie Hummer said the week of April 15 could be the opening date for the extension.

She added there will be a meeting with park and DNR officials along with a walk through before it opens.

Additional fencing is needed along the new section of trail.

Hummer said the original goal was for the extension to open on March 15, but there were a few set backs like back orders on materials and weather.

The final proposed section of the trail would see it take bikers and walkers over a restored Sideling Hill Creek Bridge toward the Indigo Tunnel, which has been a major stumbling block over the years. The tunnel is one of the largest and healthiest roosts for five species of bats, including two endangered species – the Eastern Small-footed bat and the Indiana bat.

When completed, the trail will join the C&O Canal towpath just east of the tunnel and follow the contour of the Potomac River until the trail begins again at the western end of the rail tunnel.

The trail itself is a paved, 10-ft. wide biking and walking trail following the former rail bed of the Western Maryland Railroad, which ran from 1852 to 1983 from Baltimore westward.

The length of the railroad was abandoned in 1975 with the final train removing the rails between Big Pool and Tonoloway in December 1988.