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Trail is part of national network and is extremely popular

Indian Head, MD - The Indian Head Rail Trail is more than just a hiking trail, it’s a testimony to ingenuity.

It’s also been a challenge.

Just when Charles County got the trail established in 2014 on an old railroad line that ran to Indian Head’s Navy Powder Factory from 1918 until the 1960s, portions of the trail were shut down earlier this year while water lines were inserted for the Mattawoman Treatment Plant.

A portion of the trail—from Middletown Road to Bensville Road—will be closed Sept. 15 through 17 for pipeline repair, which will require the use of heavy equipment and material transport.

Once this last segment of work is completed, bikers and hikers should be able to traverse the entire trail unimpeded.

“We had to run lines very close along eight miles of trail,” said Tom Roland, Charles County’s chief of Parks and Grounds for the Department of Public Works. “There is some construction activity still going on. There are interpretive signs and amenities being placed along the trail.”

Roland said the 13-mile trail has been well utilized since it reopened Aug. 28.

“It’s been getting high use,” he said, noting that the first Saturday it was open the trail was “completely full.

“We had a lot of families this past weekend,” Roland added.

“One thing we found out was how much people appreciate the trail when it was closed,” said Charles County Commissioner Vice President Ken Robinson. “Citizens were very anxious to have it reopened. We understand how much of an asset it is.”

He agreed with a statement made by Charles County Planning Director Steven Ball at a recent Planning Commission meeting that Charles County’s natural resources are a tremendous draw for tourism, which could help boost the county’s economic fortunes.

“I think that for a location so close to the nation’s capital, we have just outstanding nature-based amenities,” Robinson stated.

There are 23,000 miles of rail trails established on former railroad right of ways in the United States, and Roland said the Indian Head Rail Trail is part of that national effort.

The most interesting aspect of the thoroughfare is that it literally is a “rail trail.”

The entire project was funded by recycling the high-grade steel from the old rail line, which Roland explained pretty much funded the entire effort.

Donations from private sources and a grant from the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium helped pay for signage and amenities.

The paved Indian Head Rail Trail traverses roughly halfway across Charles County, connecting Indian Head to White Plains.

Cyclists, hikers and nature enthusiasts make up the bulk of users. On a recent excursion of merely a mile, a doe was spotted with twin fawns, a gaggle of Canada geese flew by and two bald eagles stirred from their reverie to glide across marshland.

The trail is one of many planned for Charles County.

“We have very extensive plans to establish over 100 miles of trails throughout Charles County,” Robinson noted. “It’s something that’s not going to happen overnight.”

Included in those plans for the near future is construction of a 3-and-a-half-mile trail from Route 301 to Pope’s Creek on the Potomac River.

Robinson added that long-range plans call for construction of a hiking trail along the right of way for the “ill-fated and ill-conceived” Cross County Connector from Middletown Road to Indian Head Highway.

“If all goes well, we hope to connect that to the Indian Head Rail Trail,” he said. “Connectivity is going to be critical as we move forward.”

Robinson said it is his goal to help establish water access to citizens of the county, and the Pope’s Creek Trail will be the first step in that direction.

“We have 300 miles of shoreline in Charles County,” he noted. “It is one of my goals to make the waterways more accessible to citizens.”

There is no parking at the Mattingly Avenue trailhead in Indian Head, but there is ample parking across Route 210 at either the Village Green Town Park or at Charlie Wright Park, 101 Doctor Mitchell Lane. To access this parking lot, take Indian Head Highway south from Fort Washington, turn right onto Lackey Drive and then left onto Doctor Mitchell Lane.

Parking is also available off Bensville Road (Route 229) south of Bensville, on Turkey Hill Road north of Marshall Corner Road and at the southeastern terminus off Theodore Green Boulevard in White Plains.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com

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