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Emmitsburg favors hiking, biking trail network

Ashley Andyshak
Frederick News-Post

(3/3) Developing a network of hiking and biking trails is a feasible joint endeavor for the town and Mount St. Mary's University.

The finding is in a Mountain Trails Task Force report presented by Mayor James Hoover this week. The report outlines the potential for a trail system on the roughly 1,000 acres of mountain land between the town and the school.

To complete such a project would take years, but commissioners and residents agree it has benefits.

Conrad Weaver moved to Emmitsburg from Fort Collins, Colo., which he said is recognized worldwide for its hiking and biking trails. A trail system in the Emmitsburg area would improve residents' quality of life, he said.

"This would add so much value to being a resident here," he said.

Other residents have said a trail system will bring more tourists to town and more patrons to local businesses.

The report estimates a trail system on town land alone could cost $225,000. A joint effort between the town and the Mount could cost $350,000.

Some residents said the cost could be minimized if the project relies heavily on grants and volunteers.

The mountains are already home to a network of decaying and potentially unsafe man-made trails, and show signs of damage from all-terrain vehicles. Litter and gypsy moth damage must also be monitored if the project moves forward, the report said.

Town commissioners voted unanimously Monday to accept the report's two official recommendations: to establish a formal partnership with the Mount, and to support the development of a nonprofit group to oversee the project.

Moving forward hinges on the decision of the university's board of trustees. Joe Lebherz is the Mount's director of institution and government relations and co-chairman of the trails task force. He said he will present the report to a Mount committee this month.

The town has already begun a paved trail project in Community Park.

About 800 feet of the first trail has been paved, Hoover said. When completed, the project will include a half-mile paved loop with exercise stations and benches. The park trails will meet Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines.

Construction on the loop could begin this fall or early next spring, depending on bid results, Hoover said. The project is funded by grants and town money budgeted for capital improvement projects.

Hoover said that while the Community Park project is not related to the mountain trails, he hopes the two eventually connect. The report suggests using Community Park as a parking area and access point for the mountain trails.

Even if the report's findings don't ultimately lead to a mountain trail system, Hoover said the information alone is helpful. The land assessment in the report includes detailed information about the land's soil and habitat, he said. The assessment was funded by a grant and cost the town nothing.