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.

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