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State park blazes smoother trail

January 02, 1998

State park blazes smoother trail

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

THURMONT, Md. - Cunningham Falls State Park has built a new, smoother trail from its new parking lot to the falls, said Sgt. Chuck Bowler, assistant park manager.

The trail might appease visitors who complained when the park eliminated easy-access parking along Md. 77.

"It will never be what people had before. It will never be drive-by tourism," Bowler said.

But it will be easier than the steep climb visitors had to make when the parking lot first opened this past summer, he said.

The change in elevation on the old trail was 600 feet. The new trail is 300 feet, he said.

On Sept. 14, a five-person crew began pulling out large boulders and smaller rocks, outlining much of the trail edges with rocks and timbers and distributing several inches of gravel on soft areas.

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The crew will suspend work on Jan. 6 and resume in early March.

More improvements will include placing concrete benches along the trail, erecting interpretive signs and replacing the disabled access boardwalk.

Parking along Md. 77 had to be barred in 1996 because it had become a traffic hazard, Bowler said.

Hikers were trying to walk on the same road used by an increasing number of commuters, and park officials feared that someone would be killed.

Anyone who parks along the road, without having a certified handicapped parking sticker faces fines of $30 to $50, he said.

To accommodate visitors, a 20-space parking lot was opened over the summer.

Hiring a contractor to reroute the trail was too expensive. The only bid came in at $140,000, he said.

But an in-house crew is doing the work for $68,544.

Relocating the parking has not only improved safety, but has improved the condition of the park, Bowler said.

Because it is less convenient, visitors leave less trash, he said.

About 450,000 people visit the falls each year, he said.

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