Advertisement

Questions arise about sign calling for $1 fee to use Western Maryland Rail Trail at Big Pool

July 19, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • The sign asking for a $1 service sharge has been taken down from a wooden post and the collection box has been covered up at the Big Pool location of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.
By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer

Some regular users of the Western Maryland Rail Trail at Big Pool were surprised last week to see a sign asking users to pay a service charge of a dollar per person to use the popular trail.

The sign, which went up July 8, had been taken down by Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier that day, Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina acknowledged that the department had made a misstep in putting it up.

But Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said questions remain as to how the state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, which oversees the Maryland Park Service, was able to begin charging a fee to use the trail without public hearings and informing area communities.

The red sign greeted trail users with the wording: “Welcome to the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Please pay service charge here. 62 & older free with pass. $1.00 per person.”

The sign was placed near a box that read “Pay Here” near the restrooms at the eastern end of the trail.

The trail extends from Big Pool Station, near Fort Frederick State Park, to near Pearre Road, a distance of about 23 miles, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources website.

“The WMRT parallels the C&O Canal for its entire length,” according to the DNR website at www.dnr.state.md.us.

“There were some concerns raised by the community, and it was brought to our attention. Based on that, we are going to take the sign down,” Settina said Wednesday.

When asked what the process was for putting up a sign for user fees, she replied: “I want to take full responsibility for this.”

She said that the sign had been erected only at Big Pool and not at other access points of the trail such as in Hancock or in Pearre.

In the days since the sign went up, about $20 had been collected each weekday, Settina said. A weekend figure was not available, she said.

Myers, who represents the area where the trail is located, said his office had received a call from a constituent complaining about the sign, and wondered why local communities were not informed that the trail had begun charging a fee.

“I think it is only fair to let the public know,” Myers said. “I am trying to find out if DNR is able to do this without a public hearing,” Myers said Thursday. “I am also trying to find out how it got so far and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Myers said he asked Settina to keep his office “in the loop” and to inform state Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, the Washington County Board of  Commissioners and the town of Hancock when such changes are being contemplated.

A few people using the trail Wednesday who spoke to The Herald-Mail before the sign was taken down were divided in their opinions.

Mark Troupe, of  Mercersburg, Pa., said he was disappointed.

“I was appalled that the state is requesting a user fee for a trail that’s been here for years. It’s public access. I just can’t believe they are now charging a fee,” Troupe said. “... And quite frankly, there hasn’t been a lot of maintenance over the years, either.”

Murray Wibberley, a Hagerstown resident who was biking on the trail, said he was fine with the sign.

“I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t think it is compulsory,” Wibberley said.

“Honestly, if, in fact, most people did contribute one dollar, most people have $500 to $1500 to $3000 in a bicycle. What the heck is a dollar anyway? But I don’t think it should be mandatory” he said.

Advertisement
The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|