Building a Trail and Connecting a Community: The Establishment of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail

Article excerpt

The Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT) is a controversial rails-to-trails development project on an abandoned right-of-way in King George County, Virginia. The Friends of the DRHT, an organization formed in the spring of 2006 to turn an idea into reality, has made remarkable progress since that time, clearing land, creating a trail head, marshalling support from county residents, and educating those who are opposed to trail development. Establishment of the trail brings an unprecedented recreational resource to the county, which is experiencing rapid population growth. This article explores the context of rails-to-trails conversion, the organization of Friends of the DRHT, its efforts to develop and promote the trail, the opposition which the group has faced, and the progress it has made in overcoming these obstacles.

KEY WORDS: recreational trails, grassroots organization, rails-to-trails

El Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT) es un proyecto de desarrollo controversial que busca convertir en calzadas las vias de tren abando nadas en un area publica del condado de King George, en Virginia. La organizacion 'Friends of the DRHT,' una organizacion creada en la primavera de 2006 para convertir una idea en realidad, ha tenido avances notables desde aquel entonces, logrando limpiar terrenos, crear un trailhead, liderando el apoyo de los residentes del condado, y educando a aquellos que se oponen al desarrollo del proyecto. El establecimiento de las calzadas, constituiria un recurso recreacional sin precedentes para el condado, el cual esta experimentando un rapido crecimiento demografico. Este articulo explora el contexto del proyecto de conversion de rides en calzadas, la organizacion 'Friends of the DRHT,' sus esfuerzos por desarrollar y promover el proyecto, la oposicion que ha experimentado ese grupo, y los progresos que han obtenido en vencer tales obstaculos.


In King George County, Virginia, a rapidly growing locality twenty miles east of Fredericksburg, conversion of the former Dahlgren railroad line into a multiuse trail is underway. The line, hastily constructed by the U.S. military in the months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was sold to private interests in the 1960s, abandoned in the 1990s, and purchased by a King George resident in 1997. A decade later, the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT) has been developed as a private trail extending nearly 16 miles through the county (Figure 1). Conversion of this abandoned rail line into a multiuse trail was made possible by Friends of the DRHT, a group formed in April, 2006, which has dedicated countless volunteer hours to develop and maintain the trail, as well as to encourage county residents and elected officials to support the project. The ultimate goal of the Friends is to turn the trail over to the state for funding, operation and maintenance, but considerable local opposition, as well as the lack of the support from county officials, has slowed the process. This article reviews the establishment of DRHT within the context of a national movement, describes the formation of its Friends, assesses the progress that the group has made, and identifies the obstacles it has encountered as it works to promote the trail. It demonstrates how a group of dedicated private citizens has succeeded in creating a trail despite considerable opposition, and traces the steps that have been taken to make this trail an integral part of the county's life and landscape.


In late 2006, the Friends of the DRHT contacted a nearby university to seek an intern to help with their research. The matter came to the author's attention during a conversation with a student interested in this position. Seeing it as a way to combine classroom instruction with practical application, the author and a colleague met with the Friends' President to discuss what the group wanted to have done and how our students might become involved with the organization. …