Montgomery Parks (Maryland) has long been interested in taking advantage of unused open space under utility transmission lines to create trails. In 2016, the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) merged with Exelon, creating the right environment to explore this possibility. The merged company, the largest utility in the nation, was being required to meet certain conditions by the Maryland Public Service Commission, including opening corridors to recreational use and publicly accessible trails.
Within 18 months of the merger, Pepco, Exelon and Montgomery Parks forged a natural trail license agreement to create a pilot trail in Potomac, Maryland — the first of its kind in the Pepco service area along a transmission corridor (the portion of the Bethesda-Dickerson Corridor between the Soccerplex and Quince Orchard Road).
“Partnering with local government and outdoor enthusiasts to develop and build trails on our transmission corridors is one of the innovative ways we are keeping our promises to our customers and communities in Montgomery County,” said Jerry Pasternak, Pepco Region Vice President. “Our ongoing pledge is to remain a partner in bolstering our region’s economic vitality and helping to improve quality of life for generations to come.”
In October 2018, phase one of the project was complete, resulting in a six-mile natural surface trail connecting the Muddy Branch Stream Valley to South Germantown Recreational Park. The new trail is the result of a collaboration among several unique entities. It was designed by Pepco and Exelon, which also coordinated signage and safety markers at trail/roadway intersections with the department of transportation (these were funded by Montgomery Parks). Montgomery Parks staff built the trail; and members of the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) will maintain it.
Trails are one of the most popular amenities in the Montgomery Parks system, which currently boasts more than 170 miles of natural surface trails.
“Montgomery County is not usually afforded the luxury of acquiring new land for recreational use,” said Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, adding that he hopes to “see more projects like this with utility companies and other private land owners.”
Use of utility corridors for trails is not a new concept. Such trails exist across the United States from those in and around Washington, D.C., such as the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia and the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Trail in Maryland, to others in Utah, Colorado and Arizona, among others. See this page on American Trails website for a good sampling.
In addition to making efficient use of open space, trails built along utility corridors can also provide cost savings since easements can be obtained for construction without purchasing right of ways. These are just a few of the myriad benefits outlined by the Rails to Trails Conservancy here.
As far as the benefits of the new Montgomery Parks Pepco trail, “…it really is limitless,” according to Montgomery Parks Natural Surface Trails Program Manager Bob Turnbull, who explained that the new trail enables access to many different park trail systems that provide a variety of experiences for hikers, equestrians and bikers. “A user could jump on the trail in Germantown and then head south to the Muddy Branch Trail and eventually end up on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath (which runs 184 miles along the Potomac River from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, MD, including 37 miles along the western boundary of Montgomery County).”
Montgomery Parks will be gaining experience from this new trail and will look to apply it to other utility corridors to expand these kinds of opportunities in Montgomery County. The next proposed section of this trail, from Quince Orchard Road to Westlake Drive near Cabin John Regional Park, will be under design in the coming 12-18 months. This extension, combined with the existing segment, will provide for a trail that is a little over 13 miles running between Germantown and Rockville.
Melissa Chotiner is the Media Relations Manager for Montgomery Parks.