Autumn Rail Trail Strolls on the Eastern Shore
October might be the best time of year for hitting the trail. And our walking and biking trails on the Eastern Shore are so much more than just a flat path for an afternoon stroll (although those afternoon strolls are truly invaluable). In reality, trails are a powerhouse of the community! They can provide a safe route for commuting to school or to work. They usher in economic opportunities, environmental benefits, historical preservation, community identity, improved health and wellness, accessibility to nature, and they often offer a chance to practice responsible land use.
In the same way that Eastern Shore Land Conservancy advocates for placing industrial solar operations on existing structures like highways and warehouses rather than working farmland, we also recognize the efficiency of placing new walking and biking trails along out-of-service railroad corridors. The original purpose of railbanking was to preserve the railroad corridor so rail service could one day return. This railbanking preservation opened up out-of-service railroad corridors for rail trail development. This process is an excellent example of repurposing developed areas so that open space can be conserved and remain open for things like agriculture or wildlife habitat.
The overlap of conservation and trail-building is an ongoing conservation within our steering committee as we have met this year to begin planning an Eastern Shore Regional Trails Network. One important task ESLC and the Eastern Shore Regional Trails Network have begun to tackle is first identifying all of the existing trails on the Eastern Shore. Thanks to the help of the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative and our NPS grant, this documentation has already begun and will soon be available to the public. (If you have a lesser known trail you’d like us to include, please let us know through our survey!) In the meantime, here are four existing rail trails on the Eastern Shore that are worth an autumn walk as we continue to celebrate Walktober in Maryland!
Running nearly three miles, this smoothly paved trail runs north to south through the town of Easton connecting both open green spaces and canopied riparian buffers as well as local businesses, residences, sports fields, and public schools. Opened in 1998, this trail offers a safe place to walk and bike away from local traffic, and even passes by the railway’s original railroad station. In celebration of Walktober, ESLC is hosting a walk on the Easton Rails-to-Trails on Saturday October 21st with ESLC director of land use and policy, Owen Bailey. You can register (for free!) on our website.
Wayne Gilchrest Chestertown Rail Trail
Opened in 2012, this scenic off-road trail connects Wilmer Park and the Chester River waterfront to Washington College and the charming historic streets of Chestertown, founded in 1706. Roughly two miles long, the trail mirrors the 1872 Kent County Railroad which used to haul peaches, tomatoes, and other fresh produce throughout the area. A caboose and two antique passenger cars mark the trailhead in between a converted farm-supply warehouse and a 120-year-old train depot. The trail was named after former US Representative Wayne Gilchrest, a champion of local land conservation who added trail funding to a federal spending bill in 2003.
413 Rail to Trail
Also called the Terrapin Run rail trail, Somerset County’s 413 Rail to Trail spans 4.5 miles from Crisfield to Marion. Lined by towering pine trees and new and old forests, the paved “trailway” is now a haven for birds and birders alike. The path provides easy access to Janes Island State Park and will cover an additional eight miles when complete. Opened in 2020, 413 offered immediate mental, social, and health benefits to locals during the start of the pandemic. The rail trail also intersects with numerous bicycle and walking paths like the Red Crab Trail and the Oyster Trail, layered throughout the town of Crisfield.
Cross Island Trail
Open to walkers, bikers, students, and visitors in 2001, the 6.5-mile-long Cross Island Trail makes new use of the abandoned Queen Anne’s Railroad that once crossed Kent Island. The trail begins near the base of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and winds on to connect the local high school with various sports fields, restaurants, bridges, neighborhoods, boatyards, boardwalks, wetlands, and the 276-acre Terrapin Nature Park. This particular trail is part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile network of multiuse trails stretching from Maine to Florida.