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The Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail: An Assessment of Trail Benefits for Users and Neighboring Residents [pdf]

The History of the Dahlgren Railroad: Independent Study Department of Geography University of Mary Washington [pdf]






About the Trail

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.

Rails-to-Trails 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 sights.

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 Trail

The Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail: An Assessment of Trail Benefits for Users and Neighboring Residents [pdf]
The History of the Dahlgren Railroad: Independent Study Department of Geography University of Mary Washington [pdf]
The Trail Today

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

Trail History

More Information:
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 passenger line.

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

Note: 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.


Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail