Maryland GAP Section

The origins of the Western Maryland Railway (WM) are connected to the historical importance of coal in this region of Maryland and Pennsylvania. During the mid-1800s the demand for coal escalated due to the industrial needs of iron furnaces and residential home heating. Companies based in Frostburg, Maryland, and the nearby Savage Mountain extracted this carbon resource from the so-called “Big Vein” of coalfields extending 25 miles from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Potomac River.  While completion of the WM from Baltimore to Cumberland met with construction delays and faced a lack of investor interest due to the turmoil of the Civil War, in 1902 the family of railroad magnate and financier Jason Gould (now under control by his heir George Gould and associated financiers know as the Fuller Syndicate) purchased the railway and with their investment the extension was finished in 1908.[1]

Due to various financial investments going sour, the Western Maryland Railway under the Gould family went bankrupt in March of 1908 and reformed in December of 1909.[2] In 1910 the WM came under new ownership by a Fuller Syndicate subsidiary named Georges Creek & Cumberland,[3] who expanded the rail line further west through the Allegheny Mountains and into Connellsville; this construction was completed between 1910 and 1912.[4] The WM between Cumberland and Connellsville continued to operate unhindered until the late 1950s, when passenger service along the WM was discontinued. In 1964, the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Baltimore & Ohio railroads bought out the WM, which merged into the Chessie System in 1973.[5] The Chessie System filed for the abandonment of the WM in 1975; the last passenger train ran between Connellsville and Cumberland on May 21, 1975, signaling the end of the railroad.[6]

When the possibility of developing a rail-trail along the WM abandonment first arose in 1988, a committee was appointed to oversee the project; among its members was Larry Brock. Brock’s relationship with the state government, particularly with Maryland Speaker of the House Casper “Cass” Taylor, helped win political support for the trail.[7] This committee would later become the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland. The potential for a rail-trail along the abandoned WM corridor in Allegany County, Maryland became a realistic possibility thanks to a National Park Service-sponsored study called the The Allegheny Highlands Trail Feasibility Study,” which was published in August of 1989.[8] The National Park Service’s intention was “to determine the feasibility of the development of a multi-use recreation trail between Confluence, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland and, if feasible, provide an action plan to provide the initial guidance needed to develop the trail.”[9] Within two years, Bill Atkinson of the Maryland  Department of Planning was put on the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland Committee to help with the development of the trail.[10]

The WM right-of-way between Cumberland and Frostburg was purchased by the Maryland Transportation Administration in 1995. The state of Maryland took ownership of the property until it was eventually transferred to Allegany County (with some reluctance on the county’s part) in 2003.[11] However, there were two gaps in the WM right-of-way that Maryland still needed to acquire: the Moran family owned the property from Frostburg to the Mason-Dixon Line until 2003, and CSX owned the Wharf Branch, which connected the WM right-of-way to the C&O Canal Towpath.[12]  In 1995 the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) was formed and the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland began collaborating with other trail groups working in Pennsylvania on the WM and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie right-of-ways.[13] Working with the ATA almost immediately benefited the trailbuilding efforts in Maryland that Atkinson was overseeing:

“There was a line item budget in the [TEA-21 fund] by Congressman Shuster, and it was a $6 million line item that was just a line item for building the trail from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. So, we were included in that, even though it was a Pennsylvania [grant]. Thanks to the generosity of Linda Boxx again, going, “Look, we’re building a trail, and you guys in Maryland are kind of struggling. We can’t quite get footholds. We’ve got political backing, but nobody wants to fund it.” The ATA voted that Maryland could use $1 million of that $6 million. And, then we took that to our governor, Governor Glendening at the time, and said, “Look, we have $1 million to start building this trail, but we have to give it back if you don’t match it.” And, that was the start of, really, our campaign to fund the trail.” [14]


Between 1999 and 2000, Atkinson, Brock, and fellow trailbuilders met with Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary John Porcari. Secretary Porcari, influenced by key trail supporters, started to devote state resources to further help trailbuilding in Maryland. His involvement prompted a closer look at how counties in Maryland received federal funding, which further extended the amount of money trailbuilders in Maryland could put towards trail development projects. The funding policy change fit conformed to the 80/20 federal grant split formula, so Allegany County only had to put up 20% of matching funds to receive federal funding.[15] Larry Brock elaborates on the meeting he had with Secretary Porcari and Speaker Taylor on the matter:

“[W]e met with [Maryland Secretary of Transportation John Porcari] in Cass’s office right around ’99, 2000. And, he was very concerned about the Pennsylvania money because Maryland had a [federal funding] policy of 50/50 match. So, [Allegany County] would have had to put up half the money against the state, whereas the [Federal] grants were 80/20. And, I still remember Cass saying, ‘So, do you have any other state giving us money to use on a project in our state? Do we have an exemption for money that comes from other states?’ […] So, that was his agreement. Porcari agreed to take the project on, make it a key project for the state of Maryland.”[16]

Another influencer who was key in convincing Secretary Porcari that the GAP project was worthwhile and an economic benefit was Sylvia Ramsey, who Atkinson commended for her role in getting Secretary Porcari on board:

“Because one of [Secretary Porcari’s] high-ranking officials, Sylvia Ramsey, was good friends with him and was an avid biker, and who had been working on this project since the early ‘90s when I was on with the project. And, because of Sylvia Ramsey, you know, talking to Porcari again, telling him what we were trying to do, convincing him that this wasn’t just building a recreational trail – this was economic development, this was something good for Western Maryland and the state as a whole. So, there was some key people that really made this at least keep moving through the hurdles.”[17]

This 80/20 grant match was of great importance to the funding of the project, as the cost of the trail in 1999-2000 was close to $6.5 million dollars, and increased to $11.5 million as the project progressed and prices for construction rose.[18] Allegany County had less than $500,000 invested in it, with an additional $2 million in federal dollars being secured by U.S. Representative Paul Sarbanes.[19] Support from allies in the local, state, and even federal government helped to move the construction along into 2003.

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) promised to match Pennsylvania’s TEA-21 transportation grant secured by Senator Bud Shuster (chairman of the federal Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure), and the ATA approved the transfer of  $1 million to the AHT-MD to help construct their 26 miles of trail.[20]  Boxx and the ATA saw that Atkinson and his Maryland trailbuilders had a need for the money, and made sure that it crossed state lines so that Allegheny Highlands Trail Maryland could initiate construction on the Frostburg to State Line section.[21] Brock gives insight into his interactions with Speaker Cass Taylor on getting Maryland state approval to match the $1 million given by the ATA:

“I spoke with then-Speaker of the House, Cass Taylor. [W]e rode down to the dedication of the rail trail in Hancock together. And, I talked about the trail with him. At that point, we thought [Maryland’s segment of the trail] was going to cost $6.5 million. And, he said, ‘So, how are you going to fund it?’ And, I said, ‘Look, we got a million dollars from Pennsylvania. If we can- we’ve got at least a start to get everything set up.’ And, he said, ‘If you’ve got the first million, I’ll get you the other five.’ End of conversation. We did the dedication and from then on out, whenever I talked to Cass, he was on board with us.”[22]

With the money promised and Maryland politicians on board, it seemed that the trail project in Maryland could finally begin construction. However, restrictions on how MDOT approached trail development would delay the project. In 1997, Mackin Engineering was hired to design and engineer the trail from Cumberland to Frostburg, and their proposal was finalized in 1998.[23] In 1999, Mackin Engineering gave MDOT an initial design that was rejected; although the drainage specifications, width, and compaction standards were in line with Pennsylvania’s trail construction protocol, they did not meet Maryland’s standards. Maryland had no trail standards at the time so road building techniques were used in place of trail construction standards, which caused the project to be delayed three years until MDOT adopted new standards.[24] For Atkinson, these years were characterized by repetitiveness and complications:

“[The Maryland State Highway Administration] did the trail surface, but the Department of Transportation’s bridge people did the bridges. And, their tunnel people did the tunnel. And, they weren’t the same people. So, every time you submitted something to the bridge people, you had to explain the whole reason [for] what you were doing. And, then when you went to the tunnel people, you had to tell them the whole reason why you were doing everything, because they weren’t talking, they weren’t the same people. […] [B]ecause of this trail, Maryland changed the way they review trails. They know to have trail guidelines now. And, they’ve done other things to make it easier in building trails. So, we kind of broke the mold, so to speak.”[25]

As construction stalled between 1999 and 2003, negotiations to acquire the right-of-way between Frostburg and the Mason-Dixon Line continued between Don Moran and the State of Maryland. Moran, who owned 2,900 acres of property between Frostburg and the Pennsylvania State Line for coal and clay mining, acquired the abandoned WM right-of-way during the mid-1970s.[26] In the early 1990s, Moran, a biker himself and a friend of Speaker Taylor, was open to leasing the right-of-way to the Maryland government at $1 dollar for 99 years. This would have allowed Moran to have access to the surrounding property for future coal and clay mining opportunities (which were never realized).[27] The state declined Moran’s offer for at least a decade. After years of negotiation, at the behest of Speaker Taylor and with general exasperation towards the state, Moran finally sold 349 acres of property to the state of Maryland in November of 2002, at close to $60 an acre.[28]

Along the right-of-way runs the active Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which became a liability and safety concern, particularly around the Brush Tunnel.[29] Right-of-way concerns with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad came into play at the same time that trail development standards and protocols were being established. Between 2001 and 2003, plans for construction along the Scenic Railroad were halted because there was insufficient room to build a trail on the shared right-of-way.[30] The Scenic Railroad had realigned their active railroad track in the center of the right-of-way after removing a second track that was not being used. To accommodate the trail alignment the track had to be physically moved in sections along the Scenic Railroad, which cost a considerable amount of Maryland’s funding to complete.[31]

The trailbuilders of the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland kept the dream alive through delays and liability disputes until the official groundbreaking ceremony was held in snowy Frostburg on January 7, 2003.[32] The first section of Maryland’s construction was completed between Frostburg and the Mason-Dixon Line in 2004, completing 5.2 miles and extending the trail from Pennsylvania into Frostburg for the first time since talks began in 1995. An additional 5-miles of the GAP in Maryland, from Woodcock Hollow to Frostburg, would be next in 2005, with a dedication ceremony held on August 25, 2005.[33] Promises were made by Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich that the trail from Woodcock Hollow would expand to Cumberland, which was realized when the Wharf Branch was purchased in October of 2005.[34]

However, it took some negotiation between trailbuilders and CSX to finalize the deal. The Wharf Branch was a double-track section of the Western Maryland Railway that had a switch to go between tracks; one led north following the GAP’s right-of-way, and the other was still being used by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.[35] The tracks were removed from the abandoned right-of-way going north but the property was still owned by CSX. Brock recalls the negotiations for the Wharf Branch being difficult:

“They had to deal with CSX to get the property acquired from them and it was long and arduous. […] The railroads still think they’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room and, ‘You do what I say or get out. If I want to deal with you, that’s fine and if not, I don’t need you.’”[36]

Needless to say a deal was struck between CSX and Maryland trailbuilders only when Maryland’s Transportation Secretary got involved. Atkinson recalls it was quite a process to get CSX to finally come to the table in 2005:

“CSX is not always the easiest place to deal with. But, they actually had some local folks in Baltimore. We had worked out the negotiations, we had the property appraised. I’m not happy with the appraisal amount because they said it was commercial property. We just didn’t think it was. Anyway, long story short, we come up with a number, we’re ready to settle. CSX closes the Baltimore office. Everything goes to Florida. Takes us a long time for somebody in Florida to pick this project up and get it back on the table to even get it reviewed again, to get them to sign off on it. They did not want the property. I mean, it wasn’t like they wanted to hold onto it. They were a willing seller to get rid of it. And, it was Secretary Porcari of our Department of Transportation who finally picked up the phone and called CSX directly and said, “We want to get this project done. We need to get it moving, and we want to buy this property.” And, he took money out of his own [transportation] budget to buy that property.”[37]

Construction began on the 6-miles between Woodcock Hollow and Cumberland in the summer of 2006. Connecting the GAP with the 184.5-mile-long C&O Canal Towpath made the connection to Washington D.C. a reality.[38]  Linking the GAP and the C&O in Cumberland was now completed and a dedication ceremony was held on December 14, 2006.  The final connection between Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh was completed in June of 2013 in Pittsburgh, bringing the combined mileage of this amazing traffic-free recreational corridor to 335-miles.

The Great Allegheny Passage was named the first rail-trail to be inducted into the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s National Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. The award presentation took in Cumberland as part of the 6th Annual Greenway Sojourn in 2007, an eight-day ride from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh for 500 cyclists billed as “The Ride of a Lifetime.”[39]  Without the Maryland segment, uniting these two major American cities through a 335-mile continuous pedestrian path could not have succeeded. However, as Larry Brock states, without the involvement of the trail groups and ATA in Pennsylvania, the Maryland trail section would have lacked the support to continue:

“The [Maryland section] got built because Pennsylvania was coming and you either did it or you’re going to leave a big gap in the middle and they didn’t want to do that. The C&O was there. It was pretty much its own thing. But, you know, the overall concept was the link between D.C. and Pittsburgh. And that, from my perspective, was what made a deal worth presenting. I can unequivocally say, without an ounce of doubt, the trail would not have been built in Maryland if Pennsylvania wasn’t coming. I would make no reservation about that statement.”[40]

Cooperation between determined trailbuilders and supportive government leaders from two states overcame wave after wave of challenges to produce one of the most spectacular trail systems in the nation, the Great Allegheny Passage.


View More Photos

Author: Reed Hertzler


[1] Allegheny Trail Alliance, TrailBook 2007 (Markleton, PA: Fieldstone Press, 2007), 74.

[2] ; ;

[3]Maryland Historical Trust, “AL-V-A-318 Western Maryland Railroad, Connellsville Subdivision, Architectural Survey File,” NPS NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES, Form 10-900-a, Section 8, Page 13 (pg. 24 of PDF).

[4] Allegheny Trail Alliance, TrailBook 2007 (Markleton, PA: Fieldstone Press, 2007), 74.;

[5] Allegheny Trail Alliance, TrailBook 2007, 77.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Larry Brock, (Mountain Maryland Trail volunteer/historian, Personal interview on experience of political scope in relation to the GAP development in Maryland), interviewed by Avigail Oren and Linda M. Boxx, conference call from Latrobe, PA,  Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 2-3; 5-6.

[8] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, (Allegheny Trail Alliance, 2013), 59.

[9] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 60.

[10] Bill Atkinson (Maryland Department of Planning, Personal interview on experience building the GAP Trail in Maryland), interviewed by Eric Lidji, Cumberland, Maryland, October 8th, 2018. Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 2-3.

[11] Ibid. 6-7; Deed between Mass Transit Administration (state of Maryland) and Board of County Commissioners of Allegany County, Maryland. May 8th, 2003, Book 716, pg 896.

[12] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 6; Deed between Moran Coal Company and the state of Maryland. January 10th, 2003, Book 713, pg 69.

[13] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 78.

[14] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 11.

[15] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 16-17.

[16] Larry Brock, Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 3.

[17] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 17.

[18] Larry Brock, Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 17.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bill Atkinson, (Maryland Department of Planning, Personal interview on experience building the GAP Trail in Maryland), interviewed by Paul G. Wiegman, Frostburg, Maryland, Transcript: “Video Interview – Bill Atkinson“, 6.

[21] Bill Atkinson, Transcript, “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 11.

[22] Larry Brock, Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 3.

[23] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 12.

[24] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 12-13. *Design was a 30% of the 30-60-90 engineering design protocol before those initial designs were denied.

[25] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 15.

[26] Don Moran, (Coal miner and former owner of the right-of-way between Frostburg and the Mason-Dixon Line, personal interview about the purchase and negotiations for the Moran property.), interviewed by Eric Lidji and Linda M. Boxx, Rawlings, Maryland, June 28th, 2017, Transcript: “2017-06-28 Don Moran_Final,” 4-6.

[27] Don Moran, Transcript: “2017-06-28 Don Moran_Final,” 6-8.

[28] Don Moran, Transcript: “2017-06-28 Don Moran_Final,” 11-14; Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 104.

[29] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 13-14.

[30] Ibid. 15.

[31] Bill Atkinson, Transcript, “Video Interview – Bill Atkinson,” 10; 19-20

[32] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 107.

[33] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 114.

[34] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 114-115.

[35] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 18-19.

[36] Larry Brock, Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 23.

[37] Bill Atkinson, Transcript: “2018-10-08 Bill Atkinson_Final,” 16.

[38] Paul g Wiegman, The Great Allegheny Passage: A History, 120.

[39] ATA trailNEWS, Volume 7, Number 2, Summer 2007, page 1.

[40] Larry Brock, Transcript: “Larry Brock Oral History_Final“, 26.