LITTLE ORLEANS — Two summers from now, a 3.5-mile westerly extension of the Western Maryland Rail Trail will be completed, adding to the paved and popular hiker/biker pathway that already exists along the Potomac River from just west of Fort Frederick State Park to Pearre Station.
The new section will extend the path from Pearre Station — near the mouth of Sideling Hill Creek — to Little Orleans and bring the overall mileage of the trail to more than 24.
The $4.5 million project will be advertised for construction this autumn, according to Steve Carr, land trail planner for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The trail runs along the top of the old Western Maryland Railroad line, but will deviate from it at the Indigo Tunnel, which has been closed to the public by the C&O Canal National Historical Park because of the presence of endangered Indiana bats.
“On both ends of the tunnel, the rail trail will leave the railroad bed and connect to the C&O Canal towpath so the tunnel and the bats can be avoided,” Carr said.
The rail trail and the towpath are very close to each other, though that proximity is not so obvious when full foliage is present, according to Carr, who described the distance between the two as being a 9iron shot away.
When the trail crosses bridges, as it will over top of Sideling Hill Creek, planks are placed to make a level walking and cycling surface.
Two bridges will be part of the trail extension, one of 290 feet and one of 270.
The existing portion of the trail is heavily used, according to Carr. Data from 2011 showed more than 135,000 users, with July bringing out the most visitors — 22,833. Law enforcement along the trail is provided by the Maryland Natural Resources Police. Motorized vehicles are not permitted.