CUMBERLAND — Allegany County officials approved an agreement last week with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to move forward on plans to construct a hiking and bicycling trail in the Georges Creek area.
The project would involve construction of a trail extending 7.5 miles from the Great Allegheny Passage in Frostburg along Georges Creek railroad lines to Barton.
Lee Beeman, Allegany County attorney, spoke about the project at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Allegany County Board of Commissioners. He said local officials have reached out to the DNR to create a path forward for the proposed project.
“The goal here is to convert the rail beds at Georges Creek into a rail bank project, which would preserve the right of way for the railroad in the manor of allowing a trail at the location,” said Beeman. “You (commissioners) had previously given permission to reach out to the DNR and what we have before you is a memorandum of understanding outlining the county and DNR responsibilities as we go forward on this endeavor. It would establish the county as the sponsor of the trail and accept the state DNR as essentially the financial resource for the trail.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to allow Jake Shade, commission president, to sign off on the memorandum.
“It is a great project and it adds to our tourism,” said Shade. “The bicycling has become a big boost to our economy through the GAP Trail. This will be a nice add-on. I know it is certainly supported by the communities along Georges Creek. They are very excited for this project.”
Larry Brock, president of Mountain Maryland Trails, gave a presentation on the proposed trail at an Oct. 8 meeting of the commissioners.
“We have a world-renowned trail in our community and we are asking you to help expand this excellent asset,” he said during that meeting.
Brock said the trail would use the road in some spaces, but would largely follow rail lines.
“We have gotten the support of the five communities along the way: Westernport, Luke, Barton, Lonaconing and Frostburg,” said Brock. “We feel this should add to our very popular trail system and be an economic benefit to our community.”
Brock also said that Fodor’s travel magazine published in October its list of 15 Most Scenic Bike Trails in America and placed the GAP Trail and C&O Canal Towpath at No. 12.
The trails have received a large increase in cyclists and hikers since the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Brock said.
“Last year there were 96,930 users. There are actually counters that count you as you go by,” said Brock. “Raw data on those counters right now are up 56% from last year, that is probably in the neighborhood of 150,000 users.”
According to Brock, the rail lines through Georges Creek are owned by the Eighteen Thirty Group, which obtained them from CSX Transportation. Brock said the Eighteen Thirty Group has expressed interest in transferring rights to Allegany County with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources stepping forward to remove the tracks and install the trail.