The longstanding plan to extend the Western Maryland Rail Trail further west, into West Virginia and back again (and then to WV and then to MD) across six different railroad bridges over the Potomac River is on indefinite hold, and a meeting was recently held to discuss the project.
Representatives of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, State Park Service, State Highway Administration and General Services will be there as well as a representative of the National Park Service, according to Steve Carr, the land trails planner for the Maryland DNR.
There also will be interested parties, such as local officials and business owners, Carr said, and Mary E. "Emmie" Woodward of Bridgeport, West Virginia, formerly of Shepherdstown, who will have an opportunity to present her views on extending the WMRT through the Paw Paw Bends.
Phase IV would extend the trail about 4.5 miles from Pearre to just past Little Orleans, Maryland, terminating on the bank of the Potomac River. Beyond Pearre and onto Cumberland, Maryland, the Western Maryland Railway right of way is owned by the National Park Service.
he bends in the river are crossed by the Western Maryland Railway right of way, bridging the river on six trestles high above the water, creating spectacular vistas of the river and mountains. The right of way goes through Allegheny County, Maryland, into West Virginia and back again six times, ending across the river from Paw Paw near the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
"Here are these bridges and it would be folly to ignore them," Woodward said. "There are six bridges in 10 miles. You can't find that anywhere else on the Eastern Seaboard. Continuing the trail across those bridges would be fantastic."
One cause of the hold is the presence of bats in the tunnels
There also are three railroad tunnels in the section from Pearre to Paw Paw, all on the Maryland side of the Potomac. The tunnels are roosting sites for several bat species, two of which are endangered, and are susceptible to the deadly white nose syndrome that is killing bats throughout the East.
The Indigo Tunnel is in the Phase IV section. It would be bypassed. The two other tunnels, Stickpile and Kessler, also would have to be bypassed if the trail were continued onto Paw Paw.
In previous interviews, state and federal officials have said that trying to bypass the Kessler Tunnel would be cost prohibitive. Because of the lay of the land, there is no feasible way to get around the tunnel - and comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements - without spending an exorbitant amount of money, officials have said.