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Western Maryland Rail Trail

Parallel Pathways

By Ranger Curt

The intensity of the rain continued to increase as I biked on the C&O Canal towpath from Little Orleans east to Hancock. Soon the rain was bouncing from the ground nearly as high as the spokes on my bike. As I continued, soaked to the bone and dodging mud puddles, I laughed to myself, recalling the 1859 account of a canaller who believed that, during heavy rains, frogs and toads "rain right down...and bounce like rubber balls when they struck the ground." Then, just east of the Sideling Hill Aqueduct, our biking group reached the sanctuary of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The rain did not lessen, but the paved Rail Trail made biking much easier.

The Western Maryland Rail Trail is maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and runs parallel to the C&O Canal Towpath for 22 miles. The Rail Trail is anchored by Lock 56 in Pearre to the west and is accessed by Woodmont Road. The Rail Trail continues through the canal town of Hancock, ending to the east at Big Pool, just off Route 56 and Interstate 70.

Many locals in the Hancock area bike the "Bow-tie." From Hancock, they bike the Rail Trail to one end, then return via the towpath. Once they reach Hancock, they cross the canal and switch back to the trail take it to the other end and again return on the towpath. In this way, one experiences a mixture of the history of both the canal and railroad, the texture of the towpath and the smooth ride on the trail.

Future plans call for the Western Maryland Rail Trail to continue an additional 15 miles west to Paw Paw and one mile further east to Fort Frederick.

But, for now, when you get caught in a heavy rain and it seems to be raining frogs and toads - it is time to plan a bike ride on the Western Maryland Rail Trail and C&O Canal Towpath around Hancock and try the "Bow-tie."