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Hancock council backs rail-trail extension plan

December 12, 2010|By DAVE MCMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK — The Hancock Town Council backs an expansion of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a project that supporters say is important for expanded tourism opportunities in the region.

The state of Maryland has already set aside $5 million to extend the trail 4.5 miles from Pearre, Md., west of Hancock west to Little Orleans, according to Penny Pittman, president of Western Maryland Rail Trail Supporters. Pittman said her group wants to get support from local governments for a proposal to extend the trail a total of 14 miles, which would grow the trail west to what is known as the Paw Paw Bends in Morgan County, W.Va.

The Hancock Town Council unanimously supported an extension of the trail Wednesday night. The 23-mile trail now runs from Big Pool to Pearre and supporters of expanding the trail said it would provide a greater understanding of the area’s past railroad history along the old rail line. It would also promote healthier living through hiking and biking for families, and encourage more tourism in the region, according to Pittman’s group.

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Representatives from the National Park Service and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park are evaluating the idea of expanding the trail to Morgan County and public comments will be accepted until Dec. 20, Pittman said. Letters of support can go to the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov, or by mail to the National Park Service, Denver Service Center-Transportation Div, CHOH WMRT EA Planning Team, 12795 West Alameda Parkway, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225-0287.

A decision on the proposal is expected in late fall 2011, according to the National Park Service. Bert Lustig, the West Virginia co-chair of the Western Maryland Rail Trail supporters, also has been trying to rally support for the trail extension.

Saying the project has been stalled, Lustig wants to begin constructing the rail trail in Paw Paw, W.Va., and go east six miles to Bond Station, which is close to the Maryland line. A low-level environmental impact assessment found bat sites in one of the tunnels in Maryland, which put the project on hold.

Morgan County Commissioner Thomas R. Swaim said he is in favor of the project, adding that “people have no clue how beautiful it is up there.”

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