Trail officially open

Friday, Dec. 5, 2008

It's hard to imagine that a 10-foot wide, 13-mile long strip of asphalt would draw thousands of tourists to Charles County who could spend millions of tourism dollars, but that is what local officials are pinning their hopes on with the grand opening of the Indian Head Rail Trail this week.

The newly developed hiker-biker trail runs from White Plains to Indian Head and cost the county $3 million to build, according to Tom Roland, assistant director of the Charles County Department of Public Facilities. The National Park Service's Federal Lands to Parks program transferred at no cost to the county a 13.39 mile abandoned railroad corridor for public recreation use in 2006 after it was declared surplus property by the U.S. Navy in 2005. The railroad was used as an important supply route for the Navy from 1918 until the 1990s.

The trail is designed to be used for walking, bicycling, rollerblading and skateboarding, Roland said in a press release, adding that the trail also meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Local and federal officials dressed for the chilly temperatures and gathered Tuesday afternoon to officially open the trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Indian Head Rail Trail will help bolster the county's tourism climate, said Charles County commissioners' President F. Wayne Cooper (D).

"We hope to attract people from all over the country," he said Wednesday. "It will definitely help tourism. We're excited about it. It's a really nice trail."

Cooper said that he rode a four-wheeler the entire length of the trail and was astonished at the beauty of the natural resources that surround it.

"One of the greatest things that I got out of it was all of the wildlife that I saw," he said, adding that he spied eagles, blue herons, deer, wild turkeys and beavers as he rode along the trail. "There was a little bit of everything. When I hit the Mattawoman [Creek area of the trail] it was so beautiful. There's so much to see. It's just nature at its best."

People can purchase park benches that are scattered along the trail and have their names or the names of a loved one placed on them, Cooper said.

The trail was built wide enough so that emergency vehicles can use it to quickly get to the scene of an accident or fire, Cooper said.

Cooper said that he hopes the trail will eventually link up to the Three Notch Trail in St. Mary's County.

Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D) said that the trail will help lure new businesses to the county that offer high-wage jobs, as well.

"When investors are scouting for a new location for a corporate business that offers good paying jobs one of the things that they look for is quality of life assets like the Indian Head Rail Trail," he said Wednesday. "We're very pleased that this has come together. … It puts teeth in the county commissioners' commitment to build a higher quality of life for all Charles County residents."

Hodge praised Roland for taking on the project.

"I salute Tom Roland for his work on this project" he said. "He's done a magnificent job in bringing us this new trail."

Commissioner Samuel N. Graves Jr. (D) said that the trail could open up opportunities for small businesses to flourish, including bike rental services, bed and breakfasts and sandwich shops.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for the citizens of Charles County to have a wonderful trail to enjoy nature," he said. "It creates opportunities for families to do something together."

Roland said that the trail, which should be completed next year, will provide a better balance of active and passive park amenities in the county.

"The county needs to better balance its park system by making passive recreation a priority," he said in the press release. "Our residents need more hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and picnicking opportunities. The development of the Indian Head Rail Trail will be a significant step in that direction and will immediately have a positive impact on the quality of life in our community."

Roland said that the trail should draw thousands of nature tourists to the county.

"We anticipate annually drawing thousands of Maryland, Virginia and [Washington], D.C., residents looking for nature-based, passive recreation in close proximity to their homes," he said in the release. "This trail should also quickly become a major tourism draw that will significantly contribute to our local economy."

The trail, which offers scenic overlooks, interpretive signs and intermittent parking areas, will connect to Bensville Park near Waldorf and will provide access to the state's 2,479-acre Mattawoman Natural Environmental Area in Mason Springs, Roland said. It will become part of the Potomac Heritage Trail which is more than 800 miles long.

"It's a wonderful trail," said Donna Dudley, the county's chief of tourism. "It will be a great attraction for visitors and residents. It's well located. It will be a great amenity."