Washington County is characterized by rolling hills bordered on the east and west by mountainous terrain. The county covers approximately 293,910 land acres. Forty-nine percent (49%) or 144,016 acres are zoned agricultural. Most of the agricultural lands can be found in the central and northern portions of the county surrounding the Hagerstown metropolitan area. State and federal forest preserves are abundant throughout the county. Most greenways in Washington County are under state or federal jurisdiction as is nearly 90% of the parkland and protected open space in the county. Several county park facilities have potential for, or are linked to, existing or planned greenways, and some corridors are protected through private land trusts. The countyís current Comprehensive Plan supports the development of parks, bike routes, and open space that would tie existing urban areas together. The countyís Land Preservation and Recreation Plan explicitly outlines future preservation and acquisition goals for grenways.
The Potomac River, C&O Canal National Historical Park, and Western Maryland Rail Trail form a centerpiece of recreational opportunities. The county is exploring the concept of using these resources as a spine to which other trails will connect. Water trail planning was recently initiated in an effort to expand recreational opportunities and create additional links to the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The Appalachian Trail runs north to south for approximately 35 miles along the crest of South Mountain between Washington and Frederick counties. Blazed trails along ridge lines and private property have been in existence for many years and are maintained by trail clubs and volunteers. Some of these trails are considered vulnerable due to logging and property closures.
The county is experiencing a continued increase in population. The 1998 population was estimated at 127,350 and is projected to reach 135,400 by 2010. Population is expected to significantly increase in the areas east and southwest of the city of Hagerstown along I-70 and I-81.
1) Antietam Creek
Antietam Creek flows from north to south through the eastern end of Washington County. The county is exploring the possibility of establishing a water trail route between Devilís Backbone Park and the Potomac River. The water trail would also pass through the Antietam National Battlefield Park. There is an existing on-road bike route which connects the Antietam National Battlefield Park to the C&O Canal towpath.
2) Appalachian Trail / South Mountain Greenways
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is an existing, multi-state greenways stretching 1,800 miles from Maine to Georgia, through Maryland along the South Mountain ridge line. About 60% of Marylandís portion of the Appalachian Trail lies in Washington County. The Maryland section links Pen Mar Park with several shelters: Greenbriar, Washington Monument and Gathland state parks, and the C&O Canal. The trail is mostly located on state forest and park land and is managed and maintained by DNR and local trail club volunteers. The AT is a footpath that is steep and rocky in places and is not handicapped accessible. Access to the AT is available at the state parks and at several road crossings. Detailed trail maps are available from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.
3) C&O Canal National Historical Park
The C&O Canal National Historical Park includes a 184-mile trail along the Potomac River. One of the parkís visitor information centers is located in the town of Hancock. The trail is an eight-to-ten-foot-wide, unpaved path utilized by hikers, joggers, and bicyclists. Some short sections are wheelchair accessible, depending on surface condition. The trail utilizes the former C&O Canal towpath. The canal operated from the 1840s to 1920 providing passage for boats carrying coal, bricks, and other bulk cargo from Cumberland and Williamsport to Washington, D.C. The restored towpath, bridges, locks, and aqueducts provide an interesting historical context. The trail is accessible in Williamsport and Hancock, and services are provided at major access points. Detailed trail maps are available from the National Park Service. The county is planning to develop water trail routes that will connect to the C&O Canal towpath just outside of Williamsport.
4) Conococheague Creek
Conococheague Creek is actually a meandering river that runs from north to south in Washington County and eventually flows into the Potomac River. The county is interested in developing a Conococheague Creek Water Trail. The potential water trail project would run from Wilson Bridge Park, where the county has established a new canoe ramp, to the C&O Canal and Potomac River outside the town of Williamsport.
5) Indian Springs Greenways
The Indian Springs Greenways is an existing greenways composed of the DNR-owned Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area. This area, over 6,300 acres, includes four large tracts of land situated in the western part of Washington County. This is one of the most popular public bow hunting areas in the state. There are footpaths through the area and around a small, handicapped accessible lake.
6) Licking Creek Greenways
The Licking Creek Greenways is a potential greenways connecting Camp Harding County Park to the Western Maryland Rail Trail and the C&O Canal. The county owns the stream bed within the park and may consider options for extending a protected corridor south to the trail.
7) Sideling Hill Creek
Sideling Hill Creek is a partially established greenways along the riparian corridor of Sideling Hill Creek in Western Maryland. The corridor runs between the Pennsylvania line and the Potomac River. The creek is of particular ecological value because of the presence of globally rare plant and animal species and natural communities. The stream is one of the most pristine in the Potomac River watershed and is one of four top priorities in Maryland for The Nature Conservancy.
DNR owns a significant amount of the riparian corridor in the middle and lower portions of Sideling Hill Creek. However, there is a large gap in riparian corridor protection just north and south of I-68. This area has been adversely impacted by the upgrade of Rt. 40 to I-68 due to runoff and rerouting of a portion of the creek.
8) Weverton-Roxbury Rail Corridor
The Weverton-Roxbury Rail Corridor is a DNR-owned corridor approximately 18 miles long in the south county area. The corridor was purchased in 1991 by DNR through Program Open Space. Initial plans to develop a trail along this corridor have been suspended, so it serves mainly as a buffer and wildlife corridor.
9) Western Maryland Rail Trail
The Western Maryland Rail Trail is a DNR-owned corridor stretching 20 miles, from Big Pool to Tonoloway. The trail parallels the C&O Canal National Historical Park and when completed will provide a smooth, paved alternative to the towpath along its 20-mile length. At its midpoint, the trail passes through the town of Hancock, an old canal and railroad town in the western part of the county.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail is a paved trail that is accessible to multiple user groups including touring bicyclists and disabled persons. Phase one of the trail, a 10-mile section between Hancock and Big Pool, was opened in 1998. Design for the second phase of the trail has begun and construction of an additional 10-miles from Hancock to the terminus point close to Sideling Hill will begin in 2001.