We just don't want them in our backyards'
Proposed extension of Fort Washington trail has residents at odds
Fort Washington residents critiqued proposed changes to the Prince George's County master transportation plan Monday, with much of the debate focused on a trail for hikers and bikers that would run from the National Harbor development in Oxon Hill to Fort Foote National Park in Fort Washington.
The public hearing was held in the county administration building in Upper Marlboro to give residents a chance to weigh in on the transportation plan, which includes suggestions to build the trail and expand the Metro's Green Line to the north, beyond Laurel, and the planned Purple Line as far south as National Harbor. The meeting was held by the County Council and the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission.
But talk of mass transit expansions took a backseat to discussions of land use for the extension of the Potomac Heritage Trail. The trail crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Oxon Hill and straddles roads through Accokeek. The preliminary master plan includes a proposal that would rescind land easements needed to extend the trail along private properties abutting the Potomac River.
Residents opposing the trail said it would cut through the backyards of private properties, degrade property values, threaten personal security and cause pollution along the river.
"Public recreational trails do not belong on private property," said Fort Washington resident Punitha Kelly, whose property could be used for the trail if it is extended. "We're not against biker trails, we just don't want them in our backyards."
Kelly added that she fears for the safety of her three children while they play in the backyard because of access to the trail.
But trails advocates fired back during the meeting, telling the council that public land easements existed on the private properties for trails long before subdivisions were built and that the land was already frequented by hikers and cyclists before the housing boom in Fort Washington during the past decade.
"Nobody owns the views," said Donna Warren of Fort Washington, referring to the views of the Potomac River from the trail. "I understand that people have concerns about safety; a trail is not a magnet for crime."
Fort Washington resident David Turner, chairman of the county's Historic Preservation Commission, spoke against extending the trail along private property and said the debate over a trail throughout Fort Washington goes back to the 1960s, when federal planners wanted to extend a commuter trail from Washington, D.C., to Charles County, bisecting private property in Oxon Hill, Fort Washington and Accokeek. But a coalition of farmers, civic associations and property owners thwarted the plan, Turner said, adding that the trail currently being discussed would pave through historic properties in south county, including Livingston Road in the Broad Creek Historic District.
The trails "can't just be anywhere. They have to be carefully placed," Turner said, suggesting that trails could be placed along service roads closer to Indian Head Highway.
Jim Hudnall, a trail advocate and Fort Washington resident, said trails help beautify the community, lessen road congestion and give residents more commuting options by allowing them to ride bikes to work.
He said residents who bought land along the Potomac River knew the land would be used for future trails because those were conditions put upon the developer by county planners.
"Park and Planning needs to have flexibility in having a trail between National Harbor and Fort Foote Park," he said. "We think people who stay at the National Harbor and come across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge would like to walk to Fort Foote Park."
Other community members said they were torn between the two sides.
Carter Farrington, president of the Tantallon Citizens Association, said he favors the trail along wide roads, such as Fort Washington Road, but wonders if there is enough space for trails to intersect smaller rural roads, such as Livingston Road.
"My community has mixed fillings about this trail," he said.
The Planning Board will allow mail-in comments until Nov. 2. The County Council is scheduled to vote on the plan by Nov. 20.