Q - What about public and
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"
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.
- 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
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:
and Safe Communities: The Experience on 372 Trails
Property Values, Opposition, and Liability Issues
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
- Why should I care? Why is the trail worth any of
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
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!