Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail: An Assessment of Trail Benefits
for Users and Neighboring Residents [pdf]
History of the Dahlgren Railroad: Independent Study Department
of Geography University of Mary Washington [pdf]
The 15.7 mile Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT)
is a proposed rail trail following the route of the
old Dahlgren Branch line, stretching across the community
of King George County in Virginia, near the historic
town of Fredericksburg. The
DRHT preserves open space, serves as an active wildlife corridor, and is open for non-motorized uses such
as cycling, jogging, walking, and skiing.
projects are a unique recreational resource and are of distinctive benefit to their communities. Rail trails have
gentle or level grades and wide rights of way that offer
clear and easy access for
people at all levels of mobility, and make
them particularly suitable for multiple and varied uses
like walking, biking and horseback-riding.
The 16-mile DRHT rail trail encompasses approximately 240 acres
beginning along Rt. 605 in King George County and running
East toward B Gate at the Naval Surface Warfare Center,
Dahlgren Division through some of the wildest and most
beautiful land in the Northern Neck of Virginia. The
property abounds with wildlife: song birds, turtles, muskrats, deer, foxes,
eagles, hawks, beaver and water birds are all common
Creation of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail as
a public-access Rails-to-Trails project is the dream
of two gentlemen — Joe Williams, who purchased the
property in 1997 with the aim to have it preserved as
a rail trail, and David Brickley, a retired director
of the Virginia Department of Recreation and Conservation
who has acquired rights to create a trail on the property
and is leading the logistics of the DRHT Rails-to-Trails project.
The DRHT is currently a private-use (permit
required) trail while the Friends of the DRHT and
other supporters work to gain the backing of the King
George County Board of Supervisors to open the trail
as a public-access rail trail.
To explore the potential of the DRHT, check out the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwestern
Virginia, an existing facility which
is very similar to the proposed Dahlgren Railroad Heritage
Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail: An Assessment of Trail
Benefits for Users and Neighboring Residents [pdf]
History of the Dahlgren Railroad: Independent Study
Department of Geography University of Mary Washington
The DRHT is a work in progress. The rail trail was officially
opened for private recreational use at a June 3, 2006 ribbon-cutting ceremony, and volunteers continue work to further
improve trail conditions and construct parking areas. Efforts are being coordinated and implemented
by the dedicated volunteer group Friends of the Dahlgren
Railroad Heritage Trail.
The trail is in constant use by families, runners, walkers, hikers and cyclists. Boyscout troops regularly venture out on the trail for overnight hiking-camping adventures. The DRHT has hosted ultra and half marathons.
"Nowhere else locally can I hike all day, for miles, through the woods listening to birds; it's a true breath of fresh air," says one trail fan.
A valid Trail Use Permit is required in order to use the trail.
The DRHT rail trail project is encountering enough vocal
opposition from local landowners to persuade the County
Board of Supervisors delay active support for the rail
trail in an official capacity. As soon as the King George
County Board of Supervisors does approve the DRHT project,
the state of Virginia can activate plans to open the
trail as a state run, funded and maintained, public-access
rail trail. The Friends of the DRHT are working to educate
the public on the individual and community benefits of opening a rail
trail, with the goal of gaining Board of Supervisor
support for the project.
How You Can Help
Read additional history about the DRHT [PDF]
Learn about historic markers along the trail [PDF]
The US government acquired property from King George
County landowners, by decree of condemnation, for the
purpose of constructing a Dahlgren Branch railroad connecting
the Dahlgren Naval base with the existing Fredericksburg
rail line at Cool Springs in Stafford, VA. Landowners
were compensated for the transfer of property as provided
in the Order Vesting Title dated February 12, 1943,
and the US Government took fee simple title of the property.
Railroad corridor maps relating to the acquisition are
available in the County Clerk's Office at King George
County Courthouse. Construction began in early 1941
and by 1942 the Dahlgren Branch rail line was being
used to ship munitions and war materials to the Navy
Base in Dahlgren, VA. The Dahlgren Branch line operated
until 1957, during which time it was also used as a
After 1957 the rail line sat idle until 1963 when it
was declared surplus. In 1965 the US Government offered
the Dahlgren Branch for sale by auction, and the line
was acquired by the RF&P. In 1990 the RF&P removed
most of the rails from an unused King George County
segment of the Dahlgren Branch. CSX Transporatation
then acquired the Dahlgren Branch line from the RF&P
in 1992. In July 1993 CSX offered the abandoned portion
of the King George County segment of the Dahlgren Branch
for sale, listed with the Century 21 Battlefield real
estate office in Dahlgren, VA. It is this abandoned
section of the Dahlgren Branch rail line that is tagged
to become the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT).
In 1993 a proposal, prepared by County Administrator
Eldon James, was made to the King George Board of Supervisors
(KGBOS) to obtain the railroad property with an ISTEA
Grant (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency
Act). The ISTEA grant money, however, was not forthcoming
at the time. In early 1994 CSX entered into a sales
contract with Edwards Grain & Fertilizer, Inc.,
but the sale fell through and the property was again
listed for sale with Century 21 Battlefield.
After contacting all adjoining property owners, Century
21 held a meeting at which they offered to sell the
property in its entirety to the individual adjacent
property owners. An insufficient number of the adjacent property
owners were interested in participating in the purchase,
so the rail line property remained on the market.
In late 1995, King George resident Joe Williams began
negotiations with CSX Transportation for the purchase
of the abandoned rail line. In October 1997, once Joe
Williams had a contract on the property, Jo Turek, Director
of Parks & Recreation, wrote a letter to the KGBOS
advising them that Joe Williams was willing to make
the railroad property available to the county and that
the ISTEA Grant remained a viable means of obtaining
the trail for recreational purposes. She also offered
a plan to seek a grant from the American Greenways program.
The KGBOS declined to support Jo Turek's proposal. In
December 1997 Joe Williams completed his acquisition
of the railroad property.
In the years after the purchase, as Joe Williams continued
to promote preserving the property as a county-owned or sponsored
trail, State support for the creation of a King George
rail trail grew — the Dahlgren Junction Trail was included
on the 1999 CONNECTING OUR COMMONWEALTH map at the Governor's
Conference on Greenways & Trails; the trail was
listed in the 2001 updated Virginia Outdoors plan (a
plan based on results of the 2000 Virginia Outdoors
survey which revealed strong public support for recreational
opportunities, especially those that can be accommodated
for trails). Joe Williams pursued a variety of options
for turning the abandoned rail line into a community
trail, but met with no success due in large part to
a lack of support from the KGBOS.
The King George County Planning Commission detailed
preservation of the railroad property for conservation
and recreation in the 2000 draft Comprehensive Plan,
but under pressure from adjacent landowners, all reference
to the development of the rail bed was later ordered
deleted by the KGBOS.
In January 2002, following a request from the Virginia
Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), Delegate
Albert Pollard submitted House Bill 1339, which would
authorize DCR to accept the rail bed as a gift from
the Conservation Fund which had funds set aside to purchase the
railway property. The property was to "be developed
as a rails-to-trails project" and "would be
managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation."
The bill passed the House unanimously and DCR announced
the news ("Assembly Transfers Rail Bed") and
plans to integrate the rail trail into the Caledon Natural
Area. Due to unexpected controversy, Pollard held a
King George County town hall meeting to hear and respond
to concerns voiced by the trail's neighbors. Although
HB 1339 was revised, taking into consideration those
citizen concerns, the Senate, under pressure, referred
the bill back to Committee. It was "carried over"
to 2003 and died in Committee.
In early 2006 Joe Williams and David Brickley announced
Mr. Brickley's acquisition of the rights to establish
a private recreational trail on the property as an intermediate
step toward a state-supported rail trail. In June, Mr.
Brickley appeared before the Board of Supervisors to
explain plans for the project. Currently, an organized
initiative, led by David Brickley and the Friends of
the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, is underway to
keep the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail open
as a private permit-only recreational trail, and later,
with state and county support, as a public-access rail
trail. Trail users must have a Trail
Use Permit to access the trail.
The efforts to complete the DRHT rail trail are endorsed
by a growing number of organizations, including:
• Virginia Association for Parks
• East Coast Greenway
• Friends of the Rappahannock
• Rappahannock Group of the Sierra Club
• Fredericksburg Cyclists Club
• Fredericksburg Pathways Partners
• BikeWalk Virginia
• Virginia Bicycling Federation
• Commonwealth Foxhounds Pony Club
• Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
• Potomac Heritage Trail Association
The information provided on this page has been gathered
from a variety of sources; its accuracy is
not guaranteed and it is not intended to be a technical
or legal document.