Before 1985, the Capital Crescent Trail was a single-track CSX-operated freight line with a slow-moving train running once a day on narrow berm in the old B&O Railroad right-of-way between Georgetown, Bethesda and Silver Spring. When CSX abandoned the line in 1985, neighborhood, environmental, recreation groups and others immediately began working together to preserve this important right-of-way as a recreational trail for all users. In the following years the community’s efforts resulted in the Capital Crescent Trail – a unique 11-mile park to be shared by thousands of hikers, bikers, joggers, families and visitors.
In 1988, trail supporters convinced the Montgomery County Council to purchase the Bethesda to Silver Spring section of the right-of-way under the federal Rails to Trails Act. A year later, these advocates and local residents secured even stronger protections for the future trail when Congress approved a plan for the National Park Service to obtain the section from Georgetown to Bethesda. In 1996, the Capital Crescent Trail from Georgetown to Bethesda was formally dedicated. This section, owned by the National Park Service, is protected in perpetuity from development.
Unfortunately, the three-mile section of the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring was held back from this designation. Developers and their allies have always seen this part of the trail as an impediment to their efforts to increase commercial density in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring, and they’ve put their full energy into the Purple Line to do just that.
These developers originally opposed opening the trail under the Air Rights Tunnel beneath Wisconsin Avenue and the rehabilitation of the trail’s bridge over Rock Creek Park. It took citizen activists’ successful petitioning of the Montgomery County Council to eventually open the tunnel and to restore the bridge. Those efforts were a prelude to our fight today to save the trail. But despite the protests of thousands opposing the construction of the Purple Line on the Capital Crescent Trail, and despite a flood of comments pointing to better alternatives, the state of Maryland in 2009 designated the route as the “Locally Preferred Alternative” (LPA) and in 2014 confirmed that decision. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) in 2014 issued a request for proposals from private companies to design and build the proposed rail project.
This is not the end of the story – it’s only the beginning. And history – the history of saving important environmental resources – is on our side. In 1954, Congress almost turned the C&O Canal into a highway. After a Washington Post editorial supported this plan, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas led a hike up the entire 185-mile canal to promote the creation of the C&O National Park. In time, Douglas’s effort succeeded. Today, it inspires our campaign to preserve the Capital Crescent Trail.
With your support, we will win this fight and the Capital Crescent Trail will remain a treasure for generations to come!
By 1985, this once-a-day slow moving freight train had ceased to operate between Georgetown and Silver Spring.