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Rail Trail is serene, smooth

July 12, 2002|by Liz Boch

lizb@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - After recently discovering the new extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, Don Miles of Woodbine, Md., said he would be back.

"We came up to ride," the cyclist said. "This is beautiful. And it's quiet."

The second phase of the Western Maryland Rail Trail has hosted about 6,000 cyclists, runners and in-line skaters in its first six weeks, said Ralph Young, manager of Fort Frederick State Park.

Running from Pennsylvania Avenue in Hancock to Polly Pond near the Woodmont area, the 9.5-mile extension follows the path of the C&O Canal. Construction on the extension began in June 2001, and it opened June 1, Young said.

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"The word is out that Phase II is up and ready," Young said. "People are already using it, especially skaters. The parking lots are packed."

The $1.5-million addition is part of a nationwide effort to convert abandoned railline into bicycle and foot paths. Once completed, the entire path will cost about $3.6 million and span about 22.5 miles, running from Big Pool near Fort Frederick State Park to Lock 56 near Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct in Woodmont. Construction of the trail's final 2.5-mile leg is expected to begin next summer, Young said.

Trail users and trail workers alike said the area provides a serene atmosphere and a smooth ride.

Ben McKee, a seasonal maintenance employee, said he is impressed by the trail's view.

"The mountains on one side are very picturesque," McKee said.

Miles said although he usually rides in other parts of Pennsylvania, he will return for the fall colors.

"It will be beautiful to see the canal and river through the trees," Miles said.

The 10-foot wide blacktop surface allows for handicapped users, Young said. Along the trail, people see wild turkey, deer and black bears in addition to an old railroad loading dock, a glass company and the Round Top cement mill. Old telegraph poles run the length of the trail's canal side. It is banked by trees and cuts through sharp rock, exposing several caves.

Judy Mills of Everett, Pa., said she appreciates the tree shade.

"I love it," Mills said. "It's wooded and the shade is perfect. I will be back. And it's so quiet."

Both Miles and Mills said the extension seemed more peaceful than the first 10.6-mile section that runs parallel to Interstate 70 for about two miles.

"This is much better than the lower end. The highway's not next to it," Miles said.

The trail has been rated excellent according to several users on www.traillink.com, a Web site in conjunction with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Hancock Town Manager Lou Close said the trail has attracted people from surrounding areas to town and increased local business.

"It's an easy bike ride from the trail into town," Close said. "It'll help restaurants, convenience stores, even the pharmacies. I doubt many bikers are going to pick up antiques, but maybe they'll come back with their cars and go through those stores too. I'm definitely happy with the extension."

Close said a $30,000 economic impact study will determine how many people use the trail and if improvements are needed. The study runs through October.

Young said possibilities exist for emergency shelters, restrooms, purchasing an abandoned caboose for scenery and creating paths tying the trail to the C&O Canal. Interpretive signs for trail attractions should be in place within the month.

Young said the trail attracts people who want to get away from traffic and enjoy nature and history.

"It's an opportunity to experience the old Western Maryland Railway," Young said. "I hate to see rural landscapes disappear and it's rapidly, rapidly changing."

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