NPS is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding the proposed extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail from Pearre Station, Washington County, MD to the Paw Paw Tunnel area of the park, near Paw Paw, West Virginia. As part of that they've released four preliminary alternatives for the trail. These alternatives vary primarily in the distance the trail will be extended.
Alternative 4 (see below) builds the trail all the way to the Paw Paw Tunnel Access/Campground Parking Area. So really it is a matter of how much then can afford to do. Alternative 4 is the best option though.
The bad news is about the tunnels. It was already decided that the trail would bypass the Indigo Tunnel to preserve bat habitat. Now, they're considering bypassing both the Stickpile Tunnel and the Kessler Tunnel for the same reason.
Bypass options to avoid use of the tunnels and install bat gates are being considered because the tunnels provide habitat (called hibernacula) for many species of bat. Additionally, White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has killed more than a million bats in the Northeast United States. Human activities in the tunnels could cause stress to bats and increase the risk to spread WNS. WNS is a relatively new condition and the NPS in consultation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, will examine the potential effects of different options as it relates to the use of tunnels for the extension of the WMRT.
I'm no biologist so I can't tell you how legitimate a threat this is, but it would be a bummer to lose the tunnels as part of the trail. It would, of course, also be a bummer to kill all the bats. Even with closed tunnels, it would still create an interesting alternative to the C&O Canal Towpath and allow for some amazing views of the Potomac River on the 6 new crossings. But I vote for trails open if possible.
There are further options about parking locations and about crossover trail design from the WMRT to the C&O Canal towpath. I don't care too much about the former, but on the later I'd like to see the more direct options chosen as opposed to switchbacks. That's Option 1 on the east side of Indigo Tunnel and Option 3 on the west side (which has the most gradual slope and more paving, but probably does the most damage since it includes a retaining wall).
The comment period runs to August 15th, so if you have opinions, let them be known now. The whole process is to be complete by the end of the year.
One last tidbit
A separate study is being performed by the Maryland State Highway Administration involving widening the US-51 Bridge and creating a bike lane/path between the NPS Paw Paw Tunnel Access and the town of Paw Paw, WV. This project would provide for better pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between the C&O Canal NHP and the town of Paw Paw, WV. The study team will consider this improvement in the planning process for the WMRT Extension.