The Grand History Trail Concept Plan: Executive Summary

This study explores the potential of creating a unique interstate trail system that would connect existing trails in a area rich in historical, cultural, and natural resources. Called the “Grand History Trail”, this conceptual network could link 100 miles of existing disconnected trails to create a circular pathway for non-motorized travelers that would extend over 300 miles.

Where will the trail go?

Currently, the Grand History Trail conceptual loop is a combination of on- and off-road facilities that connect major metropolitan cities and small historic towns in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia [overview map image or page reference here]. The route encompasses Baltimore, MD; Annapolis, MD; Washington, DC; Frederick, MD; Gettysburg, PA; and York, PA. The Background and Visioning/Planning sections (pp. x-xx) outline the steps taken to identify an alignment that would intersect cities of historical importance and the Segment Analysis section (pp. x-xx) outlines the route by segment and addresses the relationship of the trail to existing and future plans in each city, county, and state.

Whom and what will the trail connect?

The Grand History Trail attempts to connect popular existing trails like Pennsylvania’s York Heritage Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath with proposed trails or trails in the project phase, like the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. and the Gettysburg to Hanover Trail in Adams and York Counties, PA. The Grand History Trail is a circular spine that includes heritage sites of national significance like the National Mall in Washington, DC and Gettysburg National Military Park. A complete inventory of sites that can be easily accessed from the GHT route is included in the Resource Inventory (pp. x-xx)

Brief Background of the Grand History Trail Concept

The potential for a large, regional trail was identified by members of the York County Rail Trail Authority who saw the great potential of connecting the trails between York, PA, Baltimore, MD, Washington, DC, Gettysburg, PA and Hanover, PA. This spawned the idea of a real interstate trail system that also shares connections with the East Coast Greenway (a proposed bicycle route from Florida to Maine) the Great Allegheny Passage (a rail-trail system from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburg, PA) and the C&O Canal Towpath.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) received grant funding from The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Technical Assistance from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program to work with local stakeholders in developing a concept plan for the Grand History Trail that would identify a route alignment, conduct a segment analysis and resource inventory, and make recommendations for implementation. What began as a sketch on a scrap of paper has bourgeoned into a concept plan with specific suggestions, an interconnected group of stakeholders from every level of government, and a comprehensive set of Geospatial Information System (GIS) data that can be used by the various state and local partners to include on official planning documents and future tourism materials.  

Closing the Gaps: Opportunities and Challenges
A safe, non-motorized, interstate trail system in the Mid-Atlantic region would benefit millions of people every year. Not only would the system provide opportunities for recreation and tourism, it would also contribute to a growing network of multi-modal facilities that enhance transportation infrastructure by allowing for more commuting options. The GHT will also be a major tourist attraction in the Mid-Atlantic. Completion of a exclusively off-road route for the GHT will be challenging. Although a third of the route is along open multi-use trails, gaps in the system are located in major population centers with extreme traffic congestion, or in places where funding for off-road bicycle and pedestrian facilities are limited. However, with support from forward-looking state agencies, local planning departments, elected officials, and engaged citizen advocates, the Grand History Trail can become the cornerstone of an emerging trail interstate system in the Mid-Atlantic and offer non-motorized travelers a unique way to visit the heart of America’s history, combining physical activity with learning and exploration.

Using the report and associated tools
This report includes background information about the trail system [Chapter X] and summarizes the visioning process with outcomes of stakeholder meetings led by RTC and RTCA [Chapter X]. The Segment Analysis [Chapter X] goes into specific detail about existing trail systems and future plans for extensions, closely examines the segments of undeveloped trail in between, and describes the collection method and data analysis of GIS information that is publicly accessible on an interactive GoogleEarth map. The Resource Inventory [Chapter X] shifts focus from the trail to many historic and cultural sites that can be explored and are easily accessible from the trail. The inventory will be a powerful tool for local tourism departments and existing trail managers because it provides a foundation for marketing the trail as a major tourism attraction. Supplemental materials in the Appendices and on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s web site (sample Letter of Support/Resolution; media, document and photo archive; stakeholder contact list) can be used to promote the concept locally and to “make the case” for including the Grand History Trail in local and state planning efforts.

by B' Spokes

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Meeting notes:

Report/historic resource inventory and Grand History Trail (GHT) online:
A one page information sheet that can be used as a handout will be included on the web page for download.
Report outline and Executive Summary is attached to this email for review.
Due to the amount of historically significant sites and areas within the GHT route, the historic resource inventory is limited to federally-designated historic sites. However, nationally recognized historic districts will also be included (Frederick, MD, e.g.).
Estimating the number of potential users is one effective way to make the case for the promotion and development of the GHT. We will include user estimates calculated on the Pedestrian Bicycle Information Center’s Cost-Demands-Benefit Analysis Tool ( .
Existing trail user surveys and economic impact analyses will be referenced in the report and linked to on the web page.
Formal resolutions of support (none collected to date – see attached example) can be collected and stored on the web page.

Future resource inventory and mapping needs:
If additional funding is secured for continued work on the GHT, the group identified several tasks that could enhance the marketing and promotion of the trail:
Create maps that direct trail users to central business districts, Main Streets, Visitor’s centers; additional resource inventories could include food/lodging amenities, other state/local sites of historic, cultural, and natural significance.
Determine major businesses along the route that might support or advocate for its transportation/commuting benefits.
Develop tourism packages for ½ day, full day, and extended trips.

Possible activities for GHT stakeholders group:
Apply for funding to develop logo, other outreach materials, and continued group management (annual meetings and newsletters).
Develop committees (marketing, outreach/advocacy, etc.)

RTC’s continued involvement
One of our underlying goals for the meeting was to identify a group that could carry on the project after RTC’s contract expires this year. However, there may not be a group that is well suited to assume a lead role at this time. Some participants expressed a need for RTC’s continued involvement and suggested that we develop a Grand History Trail “road show” for local leaders, tourism/visitors bureaus, and elected officials. This presentation package could include information about the project concept and its local implications, and overview of historic resources, a tour of online materials (including GIS and GoogleEarth data), and a request for formal recognition of support (adopting concept as part of local and regional planning efforts, passing a resolution of support). If your group, agency, or department is interested in obtaining these services from RTC after the report is released, contact me to discuss the contract arrangement. Associated fees would include preparation time, presentation materials, and travel expenses.

Due to limited staff capacity and prioritization of contract work, our involvement in the Grand History Trail project will be limited to maintenance of the web page and delivery of contracted presentations. If your organization is able to secure funding for continued work on the Grand History Trail, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy may continue some level of involvement.