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Shank raises concerns about proposed bike trail

January 27, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Proposed 23-mile bike trail from Hagerstown to Weverton.
By Chad Trovinger/Graphic Artist

Sen. Christopher B. Shank said this week that he is “extremely concerned” about an idea for a 23-mile bike trail from Hagerstown to Weverton that is being considered by county officials.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to reopen talks about building a “Civil War Railroad Trail” that would follow the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line from Hagerstown to Weverton.

The project was proposed in the early 1990s but abandoned amid widespread opposition from south county residents and other groups.

Shank, R-Washington, said he is concerned that the project would dramatically affect the people living along it.

“In partnership with private property owners, the state, local and federal governments have done a great job of preserving southern Washington County, and this is going to increase development pressure down there,” Shank said.

The trail would link Hagerstown’s City Park with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, passing the state prison complex and running through Keedysville, according to proponent Dick Cushwa.

Cushwa, a bicycle advocate with the City Bike Advisory Committee, appeared before the commissioners along with county Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III and City Engineer Rodney Tissue to ask the commissioners’ blessing to initiate discussions about the project with state, federal and other interested parties.

Those discussions will include investigating funding sources for the project and asking CSX Railroad if it will allow shared right of way for the trail to run beside current CSX tracks for the northernmost five miles, Kroboth said.

Preliminary estimates put the project’s cost at about $16 million, Kroboth said Thursday.

The commissioners agreed to begin exploring the project, provided all adjacent property owners are notified and given a chance to be heard.

“I think it’s a good project, I really do,” Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said. “I just want to make sure the adjacent property owners have their say.”

One nearby resident, William Daly of Knoxville, Md., wrote in a letter to the commissioners Sunday that when the trail was proposed nearly 20 years ago, south county residents “overwhelmingly opposed it,” with the county farm bureau and the Maryland Conservation Council also joining in opposition.

“The trail would be costly, it would encourage development in agricultural areas and it would interfere with the property rights of adjacent owners, many of whom have to cross or go along the right-of-way to get to their homes or farm fields,” Daly wrote.

His fears include sprawl along the trail, use of eminent domain to acquire land for access points and restrictions on changing the uses of properties along the trail.

Kroboth told the commissioners he envisioned holding several public meetings and hearings before approving the project.


Previous opposition

Kroboth said in a telephone interview Thursday that he was “well aware of the significant amount of opposition that was brought up for this  project in the early 1990s.”

“I don’t know if that level of opposition remains,” Kroboth said. “If we learn there’s not significant support, that the community doesn’t feel it’s a good idea, we’ll accept that and move on.”

He said the opposition in the 1990s came before rails-to-trails became common and their value was widely understood. Since then, the Western Maryland Rail Trail has been built from Fort Frederick to Pearre Station, passing through Hancock, Md.

“I think we will work diligently to try to ensure the property owners’ rights are protected,” Kroboth said. “We’re trying to create an amenity to our community that creates ... tourism opportunities and also possibly some small business development.”

Kroboth said studies elsewhere report that rail trails generate between $250,000 and $300,000 in annual revenue for small businesses per mile, so a trail of this length could generate about $6.5 million a year.

It also could generate between 200 and 250 sustainable jobs, Kroboth said.

The cost would be expensive because the project would require constructing or reconstructing 14 bridges, he said.

Kroboth said only the state has eminent domain authority, and he does not anticipate that method being used for this project.

Shank said the proposed trail presents different problems than the Western Maryland Rail Trail because that trail runs beside a national park instead of through private properties.

“I’m not certain how (the county) would reach a different conclusion than was reached back in the 1990s that concerned a good portion of south county about the same issues,” Shank said. “If they want to review it and reach different conclusions, then we’ll take a look at it.”

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