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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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In terms of hard surface trails, key projects are the Matthew Henson Greenway trail, Black Hill trail in Black Hill Regional Park, the extension of the Magruder Branch trail to Damascus town center and Muddy Branch hard surface trail.

Natural surface trail projects are proposed in five of the eight Countywide Park Trail Corridors. A continued level of effort in new trail construction could complete the system in approximately 25 years.

The timing of completion of many of the trails will depend on when additional parkland is received through the subdivision process.

Trails Work Program

As shown in Figure 19 every other year, the Planning Board will approve a Trails Work Program to:

a. Establish trail planning priorities. As discussed in the chapter on Trail Corridor Plans, the schedule for Trail Corridor Plans would be established in the Trails Work Program.

b. Establish trail implementation priorities. The Trails Work Program will provide the opportunity for the Board to establish priorities for trail completions. Table 2.3 includes criteria that will help guide identification of priorities. Six criteria relate to hard surface trails, and one additional criterion relates to natural surface trails. The criteria echo the basic concepts of the Plan, including connectivity and geographic balance. In addition, the

criteria reflect other important factors that the Board has emphasized in work sessions:

public support, finishing what has been started, and fiscal responsibility.

c. Identify special projects and programs to enhance the trail system. Trail signage, trail amenities and interpretive displays would come under this topic. There is a need in the county trail system for improved signage and for enhancing interpretive opportunities.

Incorporating these features in the trails work program will help assure funds are available to meet these needs.

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Priorities for Improving High Volume Trail-Road Intersections As part of this Plan process, potentially dangerous hard surface trail-road intersections have been identified based on the following criteria.

Traffic volumes for all hard surface trail-road intersections were reviewed, then the analysis was narrowed to include only roads with an average daily traffic of 20,000 or more.

The analysis focused on trail-road intersections that may warrant special treatments including a grade separated crossing, such as an overpass or underpass, because these are the types of crossings that are the safest for trail users. However, they are the most expensive and most difficult to implement, and therefore require the most advance planning.

The results of the traffic analysis are summarized in Table 2.4. These are presented in priority order based on factors such as traffic volume speed, distance from a pedestrian crossing signal, existence of a median, and sight distances. These are the highest priority intersections, which should be considered for safety improvements, including possible grade separated crossings such as a trail overpass or underpass. More thorough analysis of each intersection will be required to determine the appropriate design treatment.

Recommendations Consider the trail-road intersections listed in Table 2.4 for safety improvements, including grade-separated crossings.

Forward the tables to the State Highway Administration and the County (Department of Public Works and Transportation) as recommended projects for their work programs for safety improvements or grade separated crossings.

Identify trail overpasses/underpasses as ISTEA Enhancements projects (now called Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, popularly known as TEA21).

Assess trail road intersections during the trail planning and development process to assure safe road crossings.

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Appendices Appendix A Balancing Recreational, Transportation, and Environmental Concerns Trails are one of Montgomery County’s most popular recreational facilities and can be enjoyed by all age groups as well as persons with disabilities. Trails are used for transportation to jobs and community destinations as well as recreation and can form an important network to connect parks with nearby residential communities. Trails also provide access to natural areas and conservation areas, thereby fostering public appreciation for the beauty, serenity, and intrinsic value of undeveloped parkland.

To protect and preserve sensitive natural and cultural resources while concurrently making available to the public a variety of high-quality trail experiences, the trail planning process includes the following


Understanding the Types and Quality Of Environmental Resources In The Park System.

All trail planning efforts will be preceded by a sensitive areas analysis. With the aid of a computerbased mapping system, the following natural and cultural resources will be identified and evaluated:

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Anticipating the Need for Recreation To better understand recreational demand, M-NCPPC prepares the Park Recreation and Open Space Master Plan (i.e., the PROS Plan), which is updated every 5 years. This important functional plan provides broad policy guidance for the acquisition, planning, development and management of the

County park system. The basic purpose of the PROS Plan is to answer two questions:

What is the demand for recreation facilities and programs? and … What important natural and cultural resources need to be preserved?

As reported in the 1997 Park, Recreation and Open Space Survey for Montgomery County, slightly over 75% of the survey respondents reported visiting a County park within the last year (i.e., 1996) to enjoy nature or the outdoors. However, nearly 60% of the respondents also visited a part to use a playground, 55% used parks for picnicking, and 41% used parks for playing field sports such as baseball and soccer. The 1996 survey also showed that the activities most often participated in by adults for recreation in Montgomery County were walking and bicycle riding, respectively. The survey clearly reveals the importance of County parks for both stewardship of natural and cultural resources and recreation, especially recreational activities associated with trails.

Several questions in the 1996 survey were specifically designed to learn more about trail use in County

parks. The responses were as follows (see Figure A.1):


Well over half of those surveyed (67%) had used paved park trails in the last year: 74% for observing nature, 52% for walking, 41% for bicycling and 33% for running or jogging.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents indicated that they had used unpaved trails in the last year: 90% for walking, 85% for observing nature, 28% for running or jogging, 17% for mountain biking and 5% for horse-back riding.

Across the County, responses were evenly divided between those persons who preferred paved trails (35.1%) and those who preferred unpaved trails (34.2%). Potomac area residents showed a higher use and preference for unpaved trails, while I-270 corridor and Silver Spring residents indicated a somewhat higher preference for paved trails. From these specific survey results, staff inferred that in general, areas of higher population density are better served by paved rather than unpaved trails.

Evaluating the Potential Impacts of Trails on the Resource.

There are many concerns regarding the negative impacts of trails on natural and cultural resources.

Forest fragmentation; edge-effect; the spread of exotic, invasive plant species; cow-bird parasitism of song-bird nests; heightened mammalian predation rates; soil compaction; trampling of vegetation;

plant collection; localized increases in stormwater runoff; and artifact hunting are some of the common shared concerns.

Trail related impacts, such as those listed above must be identified and mapped as “constraints”.

Balancing stewardship and recreation goals and objectives.

The General Plan Refinements Goals and Objectives, the PROS Plan and this Plan’s Guiding Principles underscore the need for both stewardship and recreation in County parks. The sensitive areas analysis and subsequent field work provides the basis for setting stewardship goals as well as evaluating potential impacts of future recreation on the resource.

Planning and implementing projects in a manner that avoids minimizes, and mitigates for negative impacts to high quality resources.

Appendix A includes examples of environmentally sensitive trail design techniques and outlines the trail planning approach used in parks with sensitive environmental features.

Monitoring the long-term success of our efforts to balance stewardship and recreation.

Once the trail is opened, regular and routing monitoring must occur to ensure that any negative environmental effects are addressed in a timely manner. A monitoring program is essential to understanding what design techniques are most effective in making a trail “sustainable” both from a recreation and stewardship perspective.

Interpreting the results of the trail program to the public.

The concept of stewardship is one of balance. Educating the public as to how the trail program achieves balance at the countywide level in terms of protecting sensitive features and providing recreation opportunities is essential to this Plan’s success.

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Appendix B Hard Surface Trail Planning Guidelines The Countywide Park Trails Plan proposes an interconnected system of hard surface and natural surface trails. This concept establishes the framework for trail planning at the corridor level.

Of the eight corridors identified in the Countywide Park Trails Plan, four include hard surface trails.

Hard surface trails provide the greatest recreational and mobility opportunities but they also pose the greatest environmental concerns. For this reason, hard surface trail proposals within a corridor must be carefully studied.

The following approach will be used in the Trail Corridor Plan process to achieve a balance among environmental, recreation and mobility objectives Identify character and quality of environmental resources in the corridor.

Mapping and evaluation of the following natural features is the first step in the Trail Corridor

Planning process:

Streams and stream buffer 100-year floodplain limits Wetlands & wetland buffers Highly erodible soils Steep slopes Habitats of rare, threatened, endangered, and watchlist species Archaeological and historic sites When the trail corridor involves a stream valley park, this step includes determining if a trail can be located outside the stream valley buffer and associated areas of significant environmental features. This process is outlined in Appendix C.

Identify how a hard surface trail would contribute to the mobility and recreational opportunities in the corridor.

Answering this question requires an understanding of land use patterns, population densities, and community destinations and proximity to other hard surface trails in the community and county.

Identify the potential impacts of a hard surface trail on sensitive features As noted in the Plan Introduction, negative effects such as forest fragmentation, soil compaction and the spread of exotic, invasive plant species need to be identified.

Identify opportunities to avoid, minimize and mitigate negative impacts to high quality resources Included in Appendix B are M-NCPPC policies relating to planning hard surface trails in areas with sensitive and significant environmental features. Although these policies relate primarily to stream valley parks, the commitment to avoid, minimize and mitigate negative environmental effects applies to all trail planning efforts. Opportunities to minimize and/or mitigate effects of stormwater run-off, habitat fragmentation, edge effects, spread of exotic invasive plant species are identified.


Propose trail recommendations that best achieve an appropriate balance among environmental, recreational and mobility objectives.

Different policy objectives must be considered and weighed in relation to others. The Trail Corridor Plan process emphasizes the balance between stewardship, transportation and recreation and makes recommendations regarding hard surface trails based upon this balance.

The Trail Corridor Plan will either:

Identify a preliminary hard surface trail alignment for purposes of more detailed study, or Recommend removal of a hard surface trail proposal from the Countywide Park Trails Plan.

If a Trail Corridor Plan is approved with a hard surface trail proposal, more detailed studies will be done in the context of a Facility Plan prior to the Planning Board approving the trail for construction.

Facility Planning A Facility Plan is the last step in the hard surface trail planning process and is the basis for deciding whether or not a project should be implemented. The Facility Plan includes a more 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, estimates construction costs and estimates future maintenance an policy needs maintenance and policing needs.

After reviewing the Facility Plan, the Board determines if the project achieves a reasonable balance of environmental, cultural, 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.

Figure B.2: Expansion of Park Boundaries to Include Less Sensitive Areas for Trail Location

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