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Trails task force report expected in 2007

(12/29) A task force created by Mayor James E. Hoover to study and make recommendations regarding a possible recreational trail system spanning town and Mount St. Mary's University lands is expected to make a final report this coming July.

The possibility of a trail system came before the town at their Aug. 15, 2005, meeting when resident Tim O'Donnell, now a town planning and zoning commission alternate member, encouraged the board to back a proposal to establish bike trails, and possibly multi-user trails, on town lands.

The task force is to look at a number of related topics ranging from liability issues to trail maintenance to project costs. The Mount may be prepared to go it alone, involving only university property, if the town opts not to participate in a joint effort.

Blazing the trail

Following up on a request that the town consider establishing a trail system, suggested by O'Donnell and supported by Commissioner Glenn Blanchard, Hoover created a mayoral task force to look into the possible development of a trail complex, possibly tied to a similar trail system that could be developed by Mount St. Mary's University.

Hoover told The Dispatch Nov. 18 that the reasoning behind establishing the Emmitsburg Area Trails Task Force was his concern that "a trail plan may be created with an insufficient amount of accurate information" and that important facets could be overlooked if the path toward completing a plan was blazed too quickly.

As a result, the mayor "requested the town manager (David Haller) to establish this task force to set the ground work, and that included the feasibility of putting trails up there on the (town) watershed property."

The mayoral-appointed task force includes Haller, local realtor Donald Briggs, O'Donnell and, Mount St. Mary's University Director of Institutional and Government Relations Joseph Lebherz.

The town owns about 1,300 acres of land outside the corporate limits, of which the task force is considering about 750 acres for inclusion in the trail plan. All of the land outside town that is owned by the town is watershed property.

The trail package under consideration may also include 600 acres of the Mount's land, and about 550 acres of town land under the auspices of the Catoctin Land Trust (which co-holds the easements with the Maryland Environmental Trust).

Paving the way

Being undeveloped, the lands involved could contain critical habitats for animals and plants, and also involve properties that recharge the town and the Mount's water supplies. Haller said the lands immediately surrounding Rainbow Lake, which serves as the town's reservoir, would likely be off limits for security reasons.

Developing an environmental resource inventory is, in fact, the current topic of discussion before the task force, as well a way to finance such a study, and was one of the principal points of discussion at the task force's November meeting.

Briggs described the development of a resource inventory as one of the "key steps" that must be taken to move the project forward. "It's kind of a big plan," Briggs told The Dispatch, adding that it would "open up that recreational resource (mountain properties). "

According to the task force, some form of public recreational trail system could be opened by summer 2008, and could include some or all of the lands presently under consideration. At the very least, the Mount may opt to proceed with trails proposed on their lands.

Briggs said he would eventually like to see a trail system running from the Emmitsburg area "all the way down to Frederick."

The task force will continue to meet at the discretion of its members. Thus far, the meetings have generally been monthly in an effort to meet their July 2007 report deadline.

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