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A Vision for the H&F Trolley Trail

Bryant K. Despeaux

President, The H&F Trolley Trail Association

(10/19) On February 20, 1954, the last clang of the trolley bell rang on the H&F line between Thurmont and Frederick. Although there would be freight service on the line for a few more years, it was the end of an era. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway tied the county together with lines that ran from Frederick to Thurmont, Braddock Heights, Jefferson, Middletown, Myersville and beyond. The electric service that was created to power the trolleys would eventually evolve into the Potomac Edison Company. The H&F held easements and right-of-ways on the land that the trolleys ran and Potomac Edison continues to hold many of these easements today to service their power lines.

In the late 1990ís, a group including Bryant Despeaux, Jim Gugel, Pat Ott and Lisa Coblentz, came to the town of Thurmont with an idea to build a multi-use trail on the old trolley line. The group was successful in getting the trail started, but when the trail reached Big Hunting Creek the need for a bridge crossing halted the project. A steel truss bridge was available from a local bridge replacement project, but due to concerns of lead paint on the bridge the Town would not approve its use. The idea of building a bridge to cross the creek was also presented at the time, but again the Town rejected the idea.

In 2006, the Thurmont Lions Club decided to take on the project and began refurbishing the existing trail and building the bridge to cross the creek which extended the trail to Moser Rd. The Lions Club along with many volunteers and donors from the community did a wonderful job building and enhancing the trail with flowers, benches and signs.

The vision of the H&F Trolley Trail Association is to complete the H&F Trolley Trail all the way to Frederick. This section of the trolley line ran from Thurmont to Lewistown, through Yellow Springs to downtown Frederick along Rosemont Ave. The first phase would go to Catoctin Furnace, linking Thurmont to this important historical site. This connection would also link the trails in the state and federal parks to the trolley trail. The next phase would take the trail to Lewistown. After reaching Lewistown, then continuing on to connect with the trail system in Frederick, connecting just off Rosemont Ave.

A trail link to Emmitsburg would be the next logical step to connecting Frederick with the northern part of the county. There is also interest to construct a trail to Thurmont and Gettysburg from Emmitsburg. A trail from Frederick to Thurmont, Emmitsburg and on to Gettysburg would bring tourism and add great economic benefits.

The mission of the H&F Trolley Trail Association is to promote the creation of the trail, build awareness and raise funds for construction and upkeep. It would be favorable to be able to build the trail using private donations, grants and volunteers if possible and then turn the trail over to the county as a designated park.

Although the trail in Thurmont is less than three-quarters of a mile, it is well used. Recently, the trail has been paved making it more compatible for strollers, skaters and wheelchairs. The benefits of a multi-use trail are significant. Not only would this trail bring tourism revenue into the county, but it would provide a safe trail for biking, hiking and other uses and offer another avenue for county residents to increase their physical activity and improve their health. In a 2012 Economic Impact Study on The Heritage Rail Trail in York County, Pennsylvania, a trail that is similar in length to the proposed Trolley Trail, the study found that the trail drew in 281,185 annual visits resulting in over $4.4 million dollars in revenue to the local economy. The trail would also allow for safe bicycle commuting from the northern part of the county to Fort Detrick and downtown Frederick.

The Trolley Trail would be a huge project and getting the first phase to the historic Catoctin Furnace would be a great start and would help prove the concept of the benefits of this north/south-connecting trail in the county.

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