A recently approved plan will guide the trail development process at Blockhouse Point in Potomac. The Park and Planning commission approved a Countywide Park Trails Plan at a worksession on May 1.
The plan lays out guidelines for how the Park and Planning commission will decide which kind of trail to develop in a given area. The county will try to maintain a balance between hikers, bikers and equestrian groups, as well as environmentalists, who might use the trails for recreation, commuting or environmental preservation.
“A lot of the public hearing focused on balance,” said Lyn Coleman, the park and planning staff member who headed the project.
The plan developed attempts to reconcile these disparate groups by allowing opportunities for all of these activities on a countywide basis. Each group will not be able to use every trail, but an attempt will be made to accommodate them somewhere in the county. “I think adding that it’s county wide is important,” said Commissioner Meredith Wellington, “You’ll have all these opportunities throughout the county.”
Natural surface trails generated the most discussion. The natural surface trail system throughout the county is expected to double over time, according to Coleman. “The most important thing you can do with a natural surface trail is to plan them right and build them right,” Coleman said.
Toward that end, a definition used by the National Park service was added to the plan which specifies that trails should have a “minimal impact” on the environment through which it goes.
The default usage for any county trail is for hikers only, but there will be signage marking if bikers, equestrians, or both will also be allowed on a given trail. “Signage is more than just letting people know where the trail is,” Wellington said.
Staff concurred with the need for different kinds of signs. “I would prefer that people not carve their own paths,” said Coleman. “You can’t protect these resources if you can’t interpret them and show people why they’re important.”
As a result of requests at the public hearing, a new category of natural surface trail, “Primitive,” will be added. Primitive trails will be uncleared with no grading done.
“The only footprint, in terms of our cost, is a blaze on a rock or tree,” said John Hensch of Park and Planning.
The planning board asked staff to clarify that the difference between a primitive and non-primitive natural surface trail is really little more than the level of difficulty. “You might see stepping stones instead of a bridge over a stream,” Coleman said of a primitive trail.
Staff anticipates trouble in keeping primitive trails in their pristine condition. “It really doesn’t take a lot of use,” Coleman said. “I think it’s going to be hard to keep them primitive.”
Although the County Council will review the plan, it is not likely that there will be any changes. “The council has decided that trails are the purview of the Planning Commission,” Coleman said.