Great American Rail-Trail would include Hancock’s trails

by Geoff Fox

Hancock’s existing trails could become part of an effort to connect nearly 4,000 miles of rail-trail and other multiuse trails from Washington D.C. to Washington State.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently announced their vision for the Great American Rail-Trail that would connect 12 trails, or gateway trails.

The C&O Canal National Historic Park’s towpath and the Western Maryland Rail Trail could be part of a planned cross-country rail-trail.

Among the 12 is the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The other trails making up the Great American Rail-Trail are Capital Crescent Trail in Washington D.C., Panhandle Trail in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Ohio to Erie Trail in Ohio, Cardinal Greenway in Indiana, Hennepin Canal Parkway in Illinois, Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa, Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail in Nebraska, Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming, Headwaters Trail System in Montana, Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho, and Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in Washington.

In some instances, those trails might not meet up to join. For example, the C&O Canal ends in Cumberland, roughly 150 from the Panhandle Trail in Pittsburgh.

According to Andrea Holliday with the Rails to Trails Conservancy, organizers are continuing to work with state and local partners on finalizing the routes to connect the trails.

There are campsites and other accommodations along the existing routes and the RTC intends to work with the local trails to map those existing campsites, hotels/motels, bend and breakfasts and additional lodging along the route.

“Areas without sufficient lodging should consider capitalizing on the economic development potential of the trail by creating various lodging types for trail users,” Holliday said.

While the canal is the part of the trail running through Hancock, the Western Maryland Rail Trail isn’t totally forgotten.

Since the WMRT runs alongside the canal for 22 miles from Pearre to Big Pool, Holliday said it could be considered an alternative option for trail users seeking a paved trail experience since there are connections to the towpath at both end points.

Over the last 18 months, Holliday said the Conservancy has spent a lot of time with state and local partners refining a route she said is already over 50% complete.

“We are excited to share that route with the world in the spring,” she said.

The route was developed using a database of more that 34,000 miles of open trails nationwide; analyses of state and local trail plans; and discussions with “hundreds of local trail partners and state agencies representing all of the trails along the potential route.”

The Great American Rail-Trail has been a dream of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy since their inception, Holliday said, when co-founder David Burwell often dreamed of a cross-country multi-use trail that would connect the United States as the railroad once did.

“Over the last 30 years, the route of this cross-country trail has begun to reveal itself,” Holliday said. “[Burwell] envisioned this trail as ‘a gift to the nation – connecting people within and between the small towns and bustling cities that make up the American landscape, accessible and inviting to all with its flat, wide, off-road paths.’”

Town of Hancock Mayor Ralph Salvagno said the town would reach out to trail organizers to see if there is any way they can be of assistance.

He said he’d also send a letter letting the group know the town’s interest and wishing them well.

Salvagno added the town is currently working with the Tuscarora Trail to get more signage for Hancock and would do the same for a future Great American Rail-Trail.

Holliday said the Conservancy has received a “tremendous positive response” to the Gateway Trail announcement so far.

“This is a trail that people have been waiting for, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is excited to make a cross-country multi-use trail a reality,” she said.