NACo Argues for Local Rights in Rails-to-Trails

Unused rail corridor transformed into walking trail

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has signed onto the State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States. This case involves the question of who owns abandoned federally granted railroad rights-of-way.  Maryland counties have converted some old railroads into trails.

As described by NACo,

The brief argues that the Court should rule in favor of the United States instead of the land owner whose property the right-of-way runs through. Such a ruling would preserve the ability of state and local governments to establish “public highways” on abandoned railroad rights-of-way. Counties typically convert these abandoned rights-of-way into public trails, in a process typically referred to as “Rails-to-Trails.” A longer summary of the case is available on the SLLC’s website.

Charles County’s Indian Head Rail Trail is described as a national success by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy,

County officials first identified the route as a potential recreational trail in the mid-1990s, but they faced resistance on a number of fronts. Some people worried that permanently losing the railroad might harm the local economy or jeopardize the status of the navy base. A local utility wanted to run a wastewater line along the corridor. Business interests pushed for the creation of a dinner-train to serve tourists.

With the help and advice of staff at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s national office, trail advocates won out in the end. In 2006, the Department of the Interior gave the unused railroad corridor to Charles County under the federal lands-to-parks program. The county spent $3 million to convert the old railroad into a trail and opened the entire path to the public in October 2009.

“This is the first rail-trail conversion in southern Maryland,” Roland says proudly. “Since 2009, we’ve probably had close to 170,000 visitors, and it’s been very well-accepted by our community. We’re seeing families, runners, bikers, birders, photographers, artists. It has been really nice.”

For more information on Marvin v. U.S., see the National Association of Counties and for more information on Indian Head Rail Trail, see the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.