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Town proposes bike trails near Rainbow Lake

Ingrid Mezo

The Town of Emmitsburg's Parks and Recreation Committee pitched its initial proposal to the town board last week for a trail project in the Rainbow Lake watershed area.

The project has already garnered interest from a variety of groups, including local businesses, schools, and outdoor enthusiasts. Several representatives from organizations expressed their support for the project at the Aug. 15 town meeting.

"These multi-user recreational trails represents a significant step toward the Town of Emmitsburg achieving a variety of goals stated in the town's 1998 Comprehensive Plan, where residents expressed a desire for more bikeways, greenways and equestrian activities," Parks and Recreation Committee member Tim O'Donnell said in an e-mail sent to The Gazette.

The project will most likely need to go through a one- to two-year process before actual trail construction can start, O'Donnell said.

The trail network that the committee envisions would link with the town's Community Park and then take travelers to the town's watershed and Catoctin Land Trust areas, and will cover a 550-acre span that is now co-owned by the town and the Catoctin Land Trust.

O'Donnell, who is spearheading the project, is an avid mountain biker himself. The project has personal significance for him and his children, who also bike, as it does for many other locals who have pitched in their support.

Several family-owned and managed bike shops have also expressed their support for the project, including Under the Sun and Wheel Base in Frederick and White's Cycles in Westminster.

Frederick County Public Schools is interested in allowing high school students to earn Service Learning Hours, a graduation requirement, when participating in trail planning, construction and maintenance events.

Catoctin High School, whose first Environmental Academy students graduated earlier this year, has offered to post announcements and invitations related to the trail's development and construction throughout the school. The committee has not approached the school about whether it would be interested in incorporating the trail project into its Environmental Academy program, O'Donnell said. O'Donnell, a school teacher himself, was not sure how the school would react to an outside committee coming in and making such a proposal, since curricular requirements are often strict.

Mount St. Mary's University President Thomas Powell was especially enthusiastic about the project, in light of his objective to provide more outdoor recreational activities for the university's students.

"As the president of Mount St. Mary's University, one of the few chances I get to have some respite is to go out to Rainbow Lake and fish," Powell said. "Rainbow Lake is a treasure to our community, so I applaud the town council for wanting to protect that resource and make it more user friendly by improving the trails and dealing with the trash problem there... this will be great for fishers."

Part of the problem at the town's watershed now is that the trails are not kept up and there is a tremendous amount of trash out there, that is an "embarrassment," Powell said. "Every time my wife and I go out there we pick up trash."

In addition, Mount St. Mary's University has developed an outdoor adventures program for which they bought canoes, mountain bikes, kayaks and outdoor climbing equipment, and the Rainbow Lake trails project would provide an area close by that students could use for outdoor recreational activities.

The university is hoping to garner interest in their outdoors program on Friday by having a climbing wall on campus.

Although the project is at an early stage for O'Donnell to project a cost estimate, he believes it will be a relatively inexpensive endeavor, he said.

In addition, the project could potentially bring tourism dollars into the community.

According to the Frederick County Office of Tourism, in 2003, tourists spent $15.56 million on outdoor recreation in the county. Building trails through the Rainbow Lake area could funnel some of that money to the town.

The Parks and Recreation Committee is currently working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and a mountain biking enthusiast group of about 500 members called Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) to map out a site plan that will indicate exactly where to place the trails.

A natural resources management plan will look at how to put in trails at Rainbow Lake in an environmentally friendly manner. It will address erosion management, preserve the water quality, ensure a good relationship between trail users and the natural setting itself, and preserve the wildlife in the area, he said.

The DNR's recreational trails program accepts applications for these types of projects every year in July, Commissioner Glenn Blanchard said, so the town will not actually propose the project to the state until next year.

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