2017-10-11 / News

Fourth and last phase of Western Maryland Rail Trail to begin this month

by Kate Shunney

Proposed work on the final section of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Proposed work on the final section of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Maryland officials have approved a contract for work to begin on the final 4.5-mile section of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, from Pearre to Little Orleans, west of Hancock.

The Maryland Board of Public Works okayed funding for phase four of the 20-mile trail in early September.

Half of the funding for the last section of trail will come from the Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration, while the other half comes from the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said John Wilson, DNR trail official. This phase of the project is expected to cost $5 million.

Contractor Charles J. Merlo, Inc. of Mineral Point, Pa. was given a notice to proceed with trail construction on September 12, said Linda Steinmetz, Western Regional Engineer for the DNR. She said contractors will likely begin work next week. Under the construction contract, the trail is supposed to be finished by March 2019.

The Western Maryland Rail Trail is a paved, 10-ft. wide biking and walking path which follows the historic rail bed of the Western Maryland Railroad from Fort Frederick, Md. westward.

The first section of the trail opened in 1998 with 10 miles of trail starting just west of Fort Frederick State Park and heading westward. Another 10 miles opened in 2002. In 2004, an additional 2.5 miles of trail took the western end to Pearre.

The final section of the trail will take bikers and walkers over a restored Sideling Hill Creek bridge toward the Indigo Tunnel.

That tunnel, and its bat inhabitants, have been the major stumbling block for this phase of the trail.

It was discovered that the 106-year-old tunnel is one of the largest and healthiest roosts for five species of bats, including two endangered species – the Eastern Smallfooted bat and the Indiana bat. Because of the value of the tunnel habitat to bats, the DNR has designed a trail bypass around the tunnel.

The trail will now 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.

Wilson said the DNR, which manages the trail, has a co-op agreement with the National Park Service to join the trail and towpath for the tunnel bypass section.

He said the bypass required a major re-design, since the trail has to go up and down hills to connect the Western Maryland to the C&O Canal.

The trail will have an access point at Fifteen Mile Creek and maps show a proposed parking lot off of High Germany Road.

“Unique features are connecting bridges, natural attraction of the beautiful view of Potomac River at the end of the trail, restoration of existing rail bridge which is historic, rock outcroppings, mountain slopes, natural vegetation which will include beautiful fall and spring color, elevational changes, views of mountains and streams, trail interpretive signs, and informational signs, integration of natural construction elements, and ADA enhancements and parking for accessibility,” Steinmetz said of this section of trail.

Wilson said the Western Maryland Rail Trail is considered a “Top 10” trail nationally, because of its high usage.

“It’s been a very successful trail,” he said.The DNR estimates over 135,000 visitors rode the trail last year.

“It’s been a very long time coming,” Wilson said of the final section of the trail.

Future extensions of the rail-trail would take the project into West Virginia before turning back into Maryland.

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The attached map here and in

The attached map here and in the email are unreadable. Resolution of the image is so low it is blurry.