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).
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.