Rails to trails project chugs ahead

State grant shifts pace of $3.1 million plan to quicker end

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Charles County has received a $100,000 state grant that will push the Indian Head Rail Trail project into high gear.

The 13-mile nature trail will wind through the Mattawoman Creek watershed from White Plains to Indian Head. The grant funding was obtained from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority through the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium, said Donna Dudley, the county’s chief of tourism.

‘‘It’s a wonderful grant award,” she said. ‘‘Charles County will benefit greatly from this project.”

The money will enable the county to finish engineering services, purchase security bollards for road crossings and install trail surface materials, said Tom Roland, the county’s chief of parks and grounds.

The project ranked No. 1 in the Southern Maryland region and received one of the highest heritage program funding allocations in the state, said Crystal Hill, the county’s media relations officer, in a press release. The county also received a commendation for the quality of the grant application, she said in the release.

Plans to build the hiker⁄ biker trail have been in the works for 15 years, but they really kicked into high gear in 2006 when the National Park Service transferred 13.4 miles of railroad tracks at no cost to Charles County. The rail corridor, valued at more than $3 million, will allow residents and visitors to take a leisurely tour on foot or bike through the Mattawoman watershed, Roland said.

The project, estimated to cost $3.1 million, entails removing the rail lines that were used by the U.S. Navy since 1918 and several abandoned rail cars, Roland said, adding that most of the railroad ties have been removed. The county was able to sell the ties and rails as salvage for $550,000 which went back into the project’s budget, he said.

Workers are beginning to lay asphalt and crushed stone material along the 60- to 100-foot wide trail, Roland said. The county also plans to erect natural resource and historical interpretive signs and bulletin boards along the trail and install recycled plastic benches. Residents will be able to contribute to the project and have their names engraved on the benches, he said.

The county is also working on a logo for the Indian Head Rail Trail and at some point T-shirts with the logo printed on them will be available for sale, Roland said.

There will be a parking lot at both ends of the trail on Theodore Green Boulevard in White Plains and Mattingly Avenue near the entrance to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, he said, adding that a couple more parking areas will be built along the trail.

A few railroad cars are still near the track in White Plains, but the county is negotiating with a company that is interested in rehabilitating the cars and using them elsewhere, Roland said.

The section of trail near Mattingly Avenue and the segment from Theodore Green Boulevard to Middletown Road are scheduled to be completed by the end of December, Roland said.

‘‘A lot of preparation had to be done to get this project started,” he said. ‘‘The property sat dormant for decades. Stormwater pipes were blown out and deteriorated so we had to fix them.”

The trail is expected to draw a lot of tourists and local hikers, bicyclists and bird watchers, Roland said.

‘‘It’s going to be a great recreational resource for the community; it’s going to be wonderful for our bikers, runners and walkers,” he said. ‘‘It’s going to cut through some natural resources protected property that the state owns. A significant part of the trail will be completely undeveloped. It will offer a great wildlife opportunity.”

The county is working with the NPS to include the trail in the Potomac Heritage Trail Initiative — an 800-mile network that begins in the mountains of Pennsylvania and ends at the Chesapeake Bay, according to Roland.

The trail will also be connected to the Three Notch Trail in St. Mary’s County, he said.

In addition, the county is working with the Rails to Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., to have the trail recognized as part of the 14,000-mile rail trail network that spans the United States, Roland said.

The trail will bolster the county’s tourism trade, Dudley said.

‘‘This rails to trails movement is very big in other areas of the country,” she said. ‘‘It’s going to be a tremendous asset for our residents and visitors to the county. It’s going to be wonderful.”

‘‘This trail will probably become one of the most significant tourism venues in Charles County,” Roland said.

‘‘We believe that when we cut the ribbon and open this trail up to the public it will become one of the best parks in our system.”