Archive for the ‘Western Maryland Rail Trail’ Category

Mile Marker Lane (The C&O Canal, WMRT, Tucarora Trail, I-70, and the National Pike)

Look what we found!

Today Candee and I started out on a round trip hike from Big Pool Station with two goals in mind: to explore and photograph the Licking Creek Aqueduct, and to find the point where the Tuscarora Trail takes one of its many northern turns toward its reunion with the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.  We were lucky enough to find the trail sign near mile marker 117, but, unfortunately, it was face down in the grass.

The familiar blue blaze!

As we headed up the bank, we found an access road with very limited parking at its end, and as we continued we chanced upon the familiar blue blaze of the Tuscarora Trail.  The road is known as Mile Marker Lane, and it winds from the C&O to US Rt. 40, crossing the Western Maryland Rail Trail and going under I-70 along the way.

Park Head Cemetery

People who frequent the Western Maryland Rail Trail will recognize Mile Marker Lane as the road that runs between the WMRT and C&O Canal NHP near the small cemetery just below the bridge over Licking Creek (heading toward Hancock).  The lane ends (or begins) near the western end of the Rt. 40 bridge over Licking Creek, and it’s perhaps only a mile long.  However, it makes contact with three trails and runs below a major interstate before meeting up with the National Pike.  It makes for a really interesting side trip off of the C&O.

Another view of the cemetery

 

Licking Creek Aqueduct

Licking Creek Aqueduct

Heading upstream from Georgetown, the Licking Creek Aqueduct is the sixth such structure on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  It is a 90′ single arch that was completed in 1838.  It is available via a one mile hike downstream from Mile Marker Lane or a 2.5 mile trek upstream from the Big Pool terminus of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

Over the top

The aqueduct (located near mile marker 116) is a remarkable piece of work in that the arch is a very long one.  Unlike the Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct that we visited recently, the span over Licking Creek is a considerable distance from the Potomac River.  Perhaps that has helped it to escape the ravages of the many floods that have hit the valley since the completion of the C&O.

Upstream looking down

Like many of the aqueducts, the upstream wall is missing, but there are no braces, and little–if any–“shrubbery” is growing between the cracks in the mortar.  On our hike up from Big Pool (we stopped at mm 117), we saw numerous deer and squirrels and a wide variety of birds.  That was surprising considering the close proximity of I-70.  The traffic creates a lot of noise, but if the wildlife isn’t complaining, neither am I.  Visiting the Licking Creek Aqueduct made for a great outing!

WMRT and I-70 Bridges--as seen from Licking Creek Aqueduct

Proposed WMRT Route: Walking from Indigo Tunnel to Little Orleans

About a tenth of a mile behind Bill's Place

Late in the spring, I mentioned that the proposed extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) had three possible results: going all the way to Paw Paw, ending at the eastern portal of Stickpile Tunnel, or simply leaving the trail as it is with the terminus remaining at Pearre Station.  With that in mind, Candee and I hiked from the eastern portal of Indigo Tunnel to Pearre Station, noting all of the dangerous rock outcroppings and work that needed to be done.

WMRT route?

Since June, I haven’t heard a whole lot about extending the WMRT, but we decided to take a walk along the old railroad bed just to have a look.  From the Fifteen Mile Creek Campground, it’s a short walk back to the gate that marks the end of this section of the trail.  The path sits just above the canal, and people taking the towpath didn’t seem to notice us–probably because there isn’t much reason to check out this section of the old railroad

Are my eyes playing tricks on me, or is there a "face" in the rock?

I was expecting to see a lot of the same obstacles that exist on the other side of the tunnel heading toward Pearre Station.  However, this mile or so of trail is in excellent condition.  There aren’t any large trees growing in the path, and none of the rock formations seem capable of producing slides.  With the exception of ankle-high weeds, this is an easy walk, and there are a couple of manmade structures that are worth seeing.  For starters, there is a small culvert that runs under the old railroad, and back in the day, the wet-weather stream appeared to empty itself directly into the canal.

Old railroad culvert

Also, the trail ends at the picturesque western portal of the Indigo Tunnel.  The opening is fitted with a bat gate that was completed in August of 2011.  In my opinion, the western portal is more scenic than its eastern counterpart, and it can be accessed from the C&O Canal towpath in the vicinity of Mile Marker 140.  Heading downstream, the flat spot on the bank above the canal will run into a cliff.  From there, cut across the canal and up the bank, and the portal will be on the right.

Western Portal of the Indigo Tunnel

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a hike on the old Western Maryland Railroad right-of-way.  It’s just above the towpath, but when the leaves disappear in winter, it offers a different vista and perspective of the Potomac River valley.  If the Western Maryland Rail Trail is extended, a lot of thought and work will be required.  Nevertheless, until that happens, it’s okay to walk the trail and daydream about what may be.  If they build it, people will come.

View from the western portal of the Indigo Tunnel

Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) Extension Proposals

Deer on the WMRT

Back in December, we noticed a drilling machine sitting on the railroad trestle immediately upstream from the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct.  We wondered about its purpose for being there, but later found out that it was part of an environmental assessment regarding the feasibility of extending the Western Maryland Rail Trail.  The assessment is now available for viewing (until June 1st), and the NPS welcomes comments from both organizations and the public.  There are three possible options on the table:  leave the railroad right-of-way as is and don’t extend the rail trail; extend the WMRT to Paw Paw, WV (!4.2 miles); or extend it to the proximity of the eastern portal of the Stickpile Tunnel (7.2 miles). The third option would also include a .9 mile trail from Paw Paw to Potomac Bridge #5 (8.1 miles total).

Another view of the Western Maryland Rail Trail

 

The document is divided into fourteen parts and is bound to make for lots of lively debate (and heavy reading).  Like many issues, there are two sides, and in this case bats and wetlands creatures are on one end of the spectrum, while cyclists, hikers, and others who will benefit from the trail are on the other.  I’m not going to pretend to have an all-knowing opinion on this topic, but the “happy medium” (supported by the NPS) would be to end the trail near the eastern portal of the Stickpile Tunnel (plus the trail near Paw Paw).  This would maximize recreational opportunities while maintaining a minimal threat to endangered wildlife.

The first piece of the puzzle was putting in the bat gate at both portals of the Indigo Tunnel.  Thus, if the WMRT were extended, there would be a short detour on the C&O Canal towpath that re-routes hikers and bikers around the tunnel.  If the trail goes all the way to Paw Paw, the bat population would also get consideration at Stickpile Tunnel, which is another long, dark passage the bats use for hibernation.  To ride through or bypass, that is the question.  It’s also possible that a section of Kasecamp road would be paved in order to accommodate hikers and bikers.

No matter how this issue unfolds, these are exciting times for all of us who have a stake in the future of the C&O Canal NHP or the Western Maryland Rail Trail.  We’re fortunate to live in a nation in which our opinions count, and for the next couple of weeks, it would be advantageous  for hardcore cyclists, environmentalist, and everyone in between to leave a comment.