Funding sought for Paw Paw Rail Trail loop
Funding is being sought from different sources to create a loop along the Western Maryland Rail Trail in the Paw Paw Bends area.
The Rail Trail loop would run from Paw Paw to the C & O Canal and on to Bond's Landing on Green Ridge State Forest in Maryland, return to the C & O Canal and loop back to Paw Paw, said former Paw Paw Mayor Julie Kidwell, who is now town recorder.
Nora Martin and Keith McIntosh, project assistants for U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, came to the June 29 Morgan County Commission meeting to hear more about the Paw Paw Rail Trail loop.
Commission President Glen Stotler and Kidwell shared details of the project. Delegate Daryl Cowles and County Administrator Bill Clark also attended.
The stretch of the proposed Western Maryland Rail Trail from Pearre to Paw Paw crosses the Potomac River six times on high trestle bridges from Allegany County to Morgan County and passes through three tunnels, covering 14-miles. The C & O Canal owns the right-of-way on the land, said Stotler.
"It could be one of the premier rail trails on the East Coast," said Stotler.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail currently runs from Frederick, Md. to Pearre. Stotler noted that a recent study on the economic impact of the Rail Trail found that Hancock had seen a $2 million annual economic impact in increased tourism from the Rail Trail improvements there.
"Two million dollars annually would be a tremendous impact on Paw Paw," said Stotler.
About $700,000 is needed for an environmental impact study and planning to begin planning the 14-mile scenic stretch of the Western Maryland Rail Trail through the Paw Paw Bends area, said Kidwell.
Senator Byrd has always been a supporter of the Rail Trail project, said Kidwell. Byrd earmarked $1 million in appropriations last year for the Western Maryland Rail Trail project, but the money did not come through. She hoped $1 million could be found again for the project so the environmental study can begin.
One avenue of funding being sought for the Paw Paw Rail Trail loop is through the National Park Service Centennial Initiative program. The initiative incorporates the vision of America's national parks continuing to inspire and teach future generations as they have for nearly 100 years.
The Centennial Initiative could potentially bring $3 billion to the National Park Service, with $1 billion over 10 years above existing budgets to be spent on park operations. Some $1 billion in donations is being asked from Americans to be matched by a special centennial account.
Current national parks will each generate their own program goals for 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park System.
The Paw Paw loop could restore two bridges and a tunnel and could be done right now as a separate piece, said Kidwell.
If they would finish the project, you could fly into Pittsburgh and ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. on one paved bike trail, which would be pretty amazing, she said. Kidwell hopes that someday the whole rail trail will be completed.
The State of Maryland has donated funding for a bat study that also has to be done before the project can begin. Maryland has also appropriated $4.9 million to pave the rail trail section from Pearre to Little Orleans, according to Kidwell.
Byrd's aides recommended that the commissioners write a letter to the senator.
Stotler said they had written him several letters regarding the project.
McIntosh suggested that the commission be more specific in their request for funding.
"Anything for West Virginia Senator Byrd will definitely support," said Roberts.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim called the views from that area "some of the most spectacular sights you'll ever see."