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Trail FAQs
  Trail Liability
Crime & Vandalism
Property Values
Emergencies & Rescue
Parking
Littering & Tresspassing
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Trail FAQs


Q - What about public and private liability?
A - Some residents who own land adjoining the trail have expressed concerns about their personal liability to trail users who leave the trail and trespass onto their property. Virtually all the managers of existing rail trails dismiss the liability problem as negligible – because, within the spectrum of public facilities, trails are inherently quite safe (far less risk than roads and safer than swimming pools, beaches and children's playgrounds), and also because the vast majority of trail users have absolutely no interest in trespassing onto adjoining private land. Furthermore, the DRHT is buffered in most cases by thick woods on either side making it rather difficult for would-be trespassers to "wander off" the trail.

If a trail user did wander off the trail, trespass onto adjoining property and then injure themselves in some way, the private landowner is protected by the recreational use provisions of Virginia law. Generally speaking, the law provides that a landowner owes to trespassers neither a duty of care to keep the property safe for entry or use, nor a duty to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on the property unless the landowner charges for the use of the land or if the landowner is guilty of malicious conduct. In summary, private landowners can only be held liable for actions that are either intended to cause harm to trespassers or are taken with reckless disregard for the consequences.

The recreational use provisions of Virginia law also address the liability risks to the owner of a private trail in that a private landowner allowing access to his or her property for recreational purposes and without charge will not be held liable for injuries sustained on his/her property unless an injured person can prove "willful and wanton misconduct on the part of the landowner."

The section of Virginia code pertaining to the recreational use provisions is Code of Virginia § 29.1-509 found in Title 29.1.

Generally, publicly-owned trails are covered by the overall insurance policy of the public entity that manages the trail.

Q - Don't trails bring an increase in crime and vandalism?
A - No. With all the studies that have been done to factually disprove this notion, it's hard to believe there are people who associate trails with crime. When you hear someone make this claim ask them for the study that backs it up. Usually, the "proof" comes in the form of a second or third-hand story someone heard about a crime on a trail. The fact that a crime may occur on a trail doesn't mean trails cause, increase, or bring crime. The unfortunate fact is that crime happens everywhere - in schools, on playgrounds, in shopping malls. Does this mean that schools, playgrounds, or malls should be opposed because they "bring crime"?

The most comprehensive study done on trails was a 1998 study done by the National Park Service and Rails-Trails Conservancy titled "Rails-Trails and Safe Communities". The study looked at 372 trails nationwide and concluded that rail-trails do not increase crime. Included in the study was a table comparing crime rates in urban, suburban, and rural communities nationwide with crime rates on trails. In 1995, there were 230 assaults for every 100,000 people nationwide in rural areas. For trails in rural areas, the assault rate was 0.01 per 100,000 users. In other words you were roughly 20,000 times more likely to be an assault victim OFF a trail than on one. But don't take our word for it, check out the following studies:

Rails-Trails and Safe Communities: The Experience on 372 Trails [pdf]
Crime, Property Values, Opposition, and Liability Issues [pdf]

Q - Don't trails cause property values to decrease?
A - No. Many of the same studies that refute crime, also address the issue of noise, nuisance, and property values. Most studies suggest that trails INCREASE property values. Again, we encourage you to research the facts and decide for yourself.

Q - How do you handle fire, EMT, and rescue situations on the trail?
A - This is a multi-part answer. First, much of the hype over emergency access on trails is just that - hype. The overwhelming majority of trail users have a safe, uneventful experience. On the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, most portions of the trail are within a mile or two of a public road. This trail is not anywhere nearly as remote as many other trails. Also, many other trails cover steep, difficult terrain. The DRHT has none of that. So the likelihood of encountering a "dangerous" situation on the DRHT is small. Still, accidents can and do happen. The DRHT is wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles. King George County has a brush truck to handle fires in remote locations and ambulances will be able to access all portions of the trail. Most, if not all of the DRHT is within cell-phone coverage so users should be able to contact emergency personnel. But most importantly, trail users should exercise personal responsibility and use good common-sense just as they would in any activity - don't hike alone, be sure to bring water, let people know where you are going, etc. Finally, trails should be held to standards no higher than other recreation activities. The Caledon Natural Area has foot paths (no chance emergency vehicles are getting on them) with points 2, 3, and 4 miles away. Emergency access at Caledon is far more problematic than the DRHT.

Q - Where will vehicles park to use the DRHT?
A - This issue is currently being worked. As we move forward, we expect to solve the parking issue through a number of methods. First, the DRHT is up to 200 feet wide in some places and can be improved to accommodate parking. We have a preliminary design on parking at the trailhead (near Rt 605) that will accommodate a number of cars. We have a second parking area designed for a portion of the trail on the west side of Rt 694 that will also accommodate parking. Other parts of the trail adjoin landowners who may be willing or have already expressed an interest in donating a section of their land to be converted into parking. Yet another option involves working with state highway officials (a retired Deputy Commissioner of VDOT, Mr. Don Askew is a trail supporter and on the DRHT Board of Directors) to modify or expand portions of state roads to accommodate parking. In short - this isn't the first rail-trail conversion that's ever been done. Parking has been raised as an issue on other trails and solutions have always been found. DRHT will be no different.

Q - What about littering, trespassers and ATVers coming off the trail onto my property?
A - Trailhead access points will have signs explicitly identifying the trail and directing users to remain on the trail, respect the trail and adjoining private property, and "leave nothing but footprints". Additionally, where the DRHT crosses paths that could provide easy access to other private property, signs will be posted identifying the trail and marking the distinction between the trail and other private property. If trespassers cross onto private property, they should be reported and charged with trespassing just as any other law-breaker. It's unreasonable to expect guarantees from trail supporters that will ensure people won't act irresponsibly. But the overwhelming majority of trail users are respectful friendly citizens. In addition to behaving in a responsible manner, they typically police the trail and surrounding areas - acting as the eyes and ears of the larger community. Many of us pick up any trash we find (even trash that may have blown off adjoining non-trail property) and report suspicious activity to the police. Studies suggest that trails actually reduce crime and nuisance problems because trail users discourage bad behavior simply by their presence. Friends of the DRHT recognizes, however, the concern of the citizens with respect to this problem. Therefore, we are establishing a community outreach group that will listen to complaints adjacent landowners may have. The Vice President of the DRHT will lead this effort and personally respond to any questions or concerns local residents may have and will make every reasonable effort to assist in resolving problems. If you experience a problem with trail users, you are asked to e-mail the DRHT Vice President.

Q - Isn't support for the DRHT really from a bunch of outsiders? Nobody from King George supports it.
A - All but one of the officers of the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail are King George residents. The original owner of the trail was a King George resident. The majority of DRHT supporters and Board of Directors are residents. Many of the trail supporters and officers of the Friends Board not only live in the county, but live within a few feet of the trail (the trail actually bisects the Friends' President's personal property and goes within 50 yards of his home. The trail is within a few hundred feet of the Vice President's home.) At the recent opening of the trail, there were over 80 supporters, most of whom were King George residents. On June 6, many supporters came and voiced their opinion to the County Supervisors. Nearly all of those who spoke were King George residents. The DRHT group members are overwhelmingly King George residents. It is equally important to note, however, that King George is not an isolated, self-sustaining island. We are part of the Commonwealth and the nation. Discussion of the DRHT should not exclude those who visit and work in King George. Some who live in surrounding regions are either in the process of, or considering, moving to King George. Their opinions are just as valid as ours.

Q - Why should I care? Why is the trail worth any of my time?
A - King George currently offers very little in the way of recreation opportunities for bikers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Aside from Caledon Natural Area (an area that does not permit biking) there is no place to hike. The roads of King George aren't particularly conducive to riding bicycles with young children. Preservation of our natural resources should be a priority. If this trail is gone, it's gone forever. Some people are fortunate enough to own large tracts of acreage where they can enjoy the outdoors. But there are over 15,000 residents of King George and many do not live on large estates or cannot afford a daily entry fee to hike Caledon. Currently, many volunteers have DONATED their time, sweat, and equipment in maintaining this trail. Additionally, some have expressed concern about the impact of this trail on county resources. The County's 5-year capital expenditure plan includes roughly $4 million worth of improvements slated for recreational uses. The DRHT actually offers the county a recreational opportunity that costs nothing to purchase, nothing to build, and very little to maintain (most, if not all, of the trail maintenance will be done by the Friends and other volunteer groups). The most instructive report on the cost of Rail-Trails is a July 2005 study titled "Rail-Trail Maintenance and Operation". This is a survey of 100 Rail-Trails and provides objective data regarding financial impact of these trails. The study can be downloaded by clicking here.

Most of the concerns surrounding the DRHT are not supported by other Rail-Trail experiences. The benefits of the trail are overwhelmingly supported by studies and objective, quantifiable facts. The DRHT is a county, regional, state, and national asset. It will eventually connect to a National system of trails (like the East Coast Greenway and the Potomac Heritage Trail). When the Nice Bridge is expanded to four lanes there will be bicycling and pedestrian access that will connect the DRHT to the wonderful bicycling and pedestrian facilities in Maryland. SUPPORT THE TRAIL!

 
   
Resources & Studies
The History of the Dahlgren Railroad:Independent Study Department of Geography University of Mary Washington [pdf]
The Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail: An Assessment of Trail Benefits for Users and Neighboring Residents [pdf]
Benefits of Trails and Greenways [pdf]
Rails-Trails and Safe Communities: The Experience on 372 Trails [pdf]
Crime, Property Values, Opposition, and Liability Issues [pdf]
Four studies on Trail Effects on Neighborhoods: Home Value, Safety, Quality of Life
Economic Benefits of Trails and Greenways [pdf]
Two Studies Find Trails Make Good Neighbors
Analysis of economic impacts of the Northern Central Rail Trail in Maryland
Rail Trail Maintenance & Operation - a survey of 100 rail-trails [pdf]
AmericanTrails.com Resources & Library Index

Assessment of User Demographics, Preferences, and Economics of three Virginia trails:
The Virginia Creeper Trail
The WO&D Trail
The Waterway at New River State Park

Other trail information and news - see how trails are benefiting other communities!
Pittsburgh businesses grow thanks to trail
Great Allegheny Passage Rail-Trail attracts 400,000 users

 
Trail Organizations
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy 
American Trails
Virginia Rail-Trails
Trails From Rails
Trail Link 
RailServe
 
Links to Other Trails
A list of North American Rails-to-Trails from RailServe.com
Washington & Old Dominion Trail
Virgnia Creeper Trail
New River Trail
Chessie Nature Trail
Baltimore & Annapolis Trail
Capital Crescent Trail
Northern Central Railroad Trail 
York County Heritage Rail Trail
   
Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail