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«Countywide Park Trails Plan THE MARYLAND-NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION Montgomery County Department of Parks Park Planning and ...»

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Public Use Easements Public use easements are deeded and recorded routes for use by the general public. They are typically natural surface. The Trail Riders of Today (TROT) have been very successful in obtaining equestrian/public easements. Public use easements are generally dedicated during the subdivision process and provide important connectors between park trails.

Public use easements are essential to implementing the Plan’s proposal in the western part of the county for a 220 mile regional trail system (see Figure 17). This trail system will like Sugarloaf Mountain, the C&O Canal towpath, Black Hill Regional Park, and Rickman Farm House Park.

Utility Rights-of-Way Overhead transmission rights-of-way and sewer line rights-of-way are linear in nature and crisscross the County. The opportunity exists to use some of these rights-of-way to provide connections between countywide park trails.

Sidewalks Sidewalks become very important non-park connectors when leakages are needed through developed areas (such as the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg).

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PART 2 Trail Planning and Implementation Process The Countywide Park Trails Plan identifies eight significant trail corridors and Plan objectives for each (see Figure 04). Generalized, conceptual trail routes are shown within each corridor. More detailed planning and implementation studies will be needed to refine concepts, explore trail alignment options and recommend trail type.

The process for more detailed trail planning and design is shown in Figure 18.

Types of Trail Plans

The principles and objectives of the Countywide Park Trails Plan will guide trail recommendations in:

Trail Corridor Plans Park Management Plans Park Master Plans Trail Corridor Plans will be prepared for each of the eight generalized corridors shown in ( Figure 04)..

Other plans, such as park master plans and park management plans may include trail elements, but Trail Corridor Plans allow a comprehensive analyses of trail options within a larger geography.

Trail Corridor Plans A Trail Corridor Plan focuses on one or more of the eight trail planning corridors identified in the Countywide Park Trails Plan and studies in more detail the general recommendations of the Countywide Park Trails Plan for that corridor. A Trail Corridor Plan is preceded by an environmental analysis.

A Trail Corridor Plan identifies trail opportunities and constraints, recommends generalized alignments for trails, recommends whether trails should be hard surface or natural surface, recommends natural surface trail categories (shared use or single use), relates trail recommendations to park stewardship objectives and to park accessibility guidelines, suggests trail related amenities (i.e., interpretation opportunities, areas for public access, potential community connections) and provides opportunities for connectivity to nearby recreational and community destinations.

A Trail Corridor Plan includes a statement of goals and objectives, maps and text pertaining to existing conditions, public policy context, analysis of opportunities and constraints and a trail concept plan identifying generalized trail alignment. The level of detail in a Trail Corridor Plan will reflect the type, length and character of a trail proposal, particularly in terms of whether a hard surface or natural surface trail is involved.

The basic elements of a Trail Corridor Plan and the approval process are shown in Table 03 and discussed below. The approach used in preparing community master plans has served as the basis for the process.

Phase 1 – Staff proposes a Trail Corridor Plan be added to the Trails Work Program.

The Trails Work Program is described in more detail in the Implementation Recommendations chapter. The Trails Work Program prioritizes the initiation and completion of Trail Corridor Plans. The Planning Board, after reviewing staff recommended planning projects, determines which Trail Corridor studies should go forward.

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Phase 2 – Staff prepares and presents an Issues and Outreach Strategy Report to the Planning Board.

Once a Trail Corridor Plan has been added to the Trails Work Program, staff will begin detailed data collection, including an environmental assessment, technical analysis and map preparation for the Trail Corridor area.

Informal meetings with community groups or a public forum may be held during this phase to report on preliminary findings of the data collection effort and to help identify planning issues.

Staff will then prepare an Issues and Outreach Strategy Report for review by the Planning Board.

This report will identify the most significant issues in the corridor; propose a time-line for completing the Plan and recommend a citizen participation strategy.

Phase 3 – Staff Prepares a Staff Draft Trail Corridor Plan After the Issues and Outreach Strategy Report is approved, the most intensive phase of the Plan process begins. Staff meets with the community to identify trail opportunities and constraints within the corridor, to review the environmental analysis and trail alignment alternatives, to discuss the character of trails and to identify trail concerns. Additional data and studies are completed as needed, including o Mapping of sensitive areas as defined by the Environmental Guidelines.

o Identification of historic and archaeological features and settings.

o Potential for connection to adjacent communities and other trail systems o Identification of disturbed areas within corridor o Identification of generalized areas where bridge crossings are needed.

o Analysis of grades and slopes to examine potential or accessibility to people with disabilities At the same time, staff within the Department of Park and Planning meet, discuss options and evaluate ideas and concepts resulting from community meetings.

At the end of this phase, staff prepares a Staff Draft Trail Corridor Plan.

Phase 4 – Planning Board Reviews and Revises Staff Draft Plan for Purposes of Public Hearing After the Staff Draft is completed, it is reviewed by the Planning Board. The Planning Board determines if the Staff Draft is acceptable for purposes of a Public Hearing. After making any changes to the Draft Plan as directed by the Board, staff published the Public Hearing Draft Plan and notifies the community of the opportunity to testify on the plan. Anyone may testify either orally or in writing.

Phase 5 - Planning Board approves the Trail Corridor Plan.

After the close of the record of the Public Hearing, staff prepares a written summary and written responses to the Public Hearing testimony. The Planning Board holds work sessions with staff to review the testimony and to determine whether to revise the draft plan. The public is welcome to attend Worksessions but testimony is typically not taken because the opportunity for public input was provided by the public hearing.

During Worksessions, the Planning Board makes whatever changes they feel necessary to the Plan text. Staff incorporates these changes into the Draft plan.

The final action of the Planning Board is to approve the Trail Corridor Plan.

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Other Types of Trail Plans Trail Corridor Plans focus exclusively on trails. Other planning documents, however, may include trail

proposals. These include:

A Park Master Plan is a comprehensive plan for a particular park. Trails are one of the park facilities studied.

A Park Management Plan addresses how to manage natural and cultural resources, identifies maintenance needs and recommends public access proposals. In some cases these plans may be “interim” plans until a more detailed Park Master Plan can be prepared. In other cases, the park management plan may guide use of the parks for many, many years.


A Park and Trail Analysis Report is prepared in conjunction with community master plans and provides the basis for the proposed parkland map contained in an Area Master Plan. The Park and Trail Analysis Report looks at opportunities to expand trail corridors to maximize the opportunities to locate trails outside sensitive environmental areas and explores the opportunities for integrating park trails with proposed off-road bike paths.

The above plans involve the basic components of the trail corridor planning process: an evaluation of opportunities and constraints, public input and Planning Board review and approval. Regardless of when or in what process trails are studied or planned, the guiding principles of the Countywide Park Trails Plan, including the balancing of recreational and environmental protections objectives, will be applied.

As discussed in the Implementation Recommendations chapter, subdivision proposals and site plan applications may include proposed trails. These trails are reviewed by staff in accordance with the guiding principles of the Countywide Park Trails Plan.

Trail Planning Guidelines Included in the Appendices of this Plan are guidelines that are more specific relating to the following topics.

Balancing Recreational, Transportation and Environmental Concerns (Appendix A) Protecting and preserving sensitive natural and cultural resources while providing a variety of high quality trail experiences is a fundamental objective in the trail planning process.

Appendix A describes in more detail the approach used to help ensure the right balance between stewardship, recreation and transportation concerns.

Trail Planning Guidelines for Hard Surface Trails (Appendices B and C) Hard surface trails provide the greatest recreational and mobility opportunities but they also pose environmental concerns. The guidelines in Appendices B and C help achieve a balance among environmental, recreation and mobility objectives.

Trail Planning Guidelines for Natural Surface Trails (Appendix D) Natural surface trails are popular among many user groups, including hikers, bikers and equestrians. The planning guidelines in Appendix D will help create sustainable trails that support current and anticipated trails uses with minimal impact to adjoining natural systems and cultural resources.

Park Accessibility Goals and Objectives for People with Disabilities (Appendix E) As stated in the 1998 Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan (PROS), the Department of Park and Planning seeks to provide public accessibility for all park visitors, consistent with the obligation to conserve park resources and preserve the quality of the park experience for everyone. One of the accessibility goals of the Department is “to increase utilization of Montgomery County Parks by persons with disabilities.” In order to implement this policy, the PROS Plan endorses providing accessible facilities in each region of the county to ensure convenient access to persons with disabilities. (see Appendix E).

During the Trail Corridor Planning Process, potential trail alignments will be examined and evaluated in terms of their potential for accessibility to people with disabilities. Not every trail, particularly natural surface trails, will be able to accommodate persons with disabilities. The intent of the Department’s accessibility policy is to assure that all residents of all different personal mobility skill levels have the opportunity to enjoy nature. This means providing a variety of accessible trails in different locations of the county.


Implementing Trail Plans As shown in Figure 18, once a Trail Corridor Plan, Park Master Plan or Park Management is approved, the next step is to evaluate actual trail alignments. This process involves completing a Facility Plan for hard-surface trails and a Trail Assessment Study for natural-surface trails.

A Facility Plan is the basis for deciding whether or not a hard surface trail project should be implemented. A Facility Plan includes a rigorous analysis of environmental impacts and cultural resource impacts, recommends the type of hard surface trail surface (boardwalk, asphalt, etc.), analyzes community connection opportunities, analyzes engineering feasibility, and estimates future maintenance and policing needs.

After reviewing the Facility Plan, the Board determines if the project achieves a reasonable balance of environmental, cultural, and recreational and fiscal objectives. If it does, the trail project is considered along with other park projects for funding in the Capital Improvement Program. If the Planning Board determines that the trail is not feasible, not worth the negative impacts, or too costly, then the project is abandoned at the end of the facility planning stage.

A Trail Assessment Study precedes any decision to go forward with a natural surface trail. When a Trail Corridor Plan identifies a preliminary alignment and recommends a shared use trail use category for a natural surface trail, further work is done by staff to designate a final alignment. Trail Assessment studies rely heavily on environmental analysis, field walks with park region staff, Park Development and Design staff, staff horticulturists and forest ecologists, natural resource specialists and park managers to assure a proposed trail is sustainable from both an environmental and recreational perspective.


Trail Planning and Implementation Priorities The Countywide Park Trails Plan is a long-range, visionary guide and will take many decades to implement.

The Trails Work Program, described in this chapter will allow the Planning Board to evaluate and adjust priorities on a bi-annual basis. The Trails Implementation Work Program will also establish priorities for trail planning and identify special projects and programs to improve the trail system.

A summary of implementation strategies is included in Table 07.

Implementing the Countywide Trail Network As shown in Table 2.4, approximately 12.75 miles of hard surface trails and 31.2 miles of natural surface trails are needed to implement this Plan.

Priorities for more detailed planning and completion of trail projects will be established by the Planning Board in the context of the Trails Work Program.

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