Fate of historic trail uncertain in Army restoration project -- Gazette.Net



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This story was updated at 2 p.m. on Nov. 14.

Anne-Marie Tsipianitis said she has “nightmares” about the potential closing of Ireland Drive.

Tsipianitis said she and her two border collies walk the well-worn trail every day — sometimes through snow and sleet — and worries that the Army may close the paved path as part of its restoration project at the Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring.

Tsipianitis said the trails were a “big draw” of her Silver Spring neighborhood, citing the trails as a reason she moved to the area 18 years ago.

The Army is investigating six sites on the Annex that have been identified as areas for review, including three landfills, a car wash area, the site of an oil leak and a streambed contaminated with suspected carcinogens. It has identified several materials for cleanup, including polychlorinated biphenyl, medical waste, petroleum and incinerator ash.

One landfill site, known as the ballfield/helipad/rubble dump site, is located at the top of a steep hill on the Annex property that leads down to the trail.

The Army said the trail may be unsafe because it doesn’t know what is buried in the landfills created by Walter Reed Army Medical Center during its ownership of the site in the 1940s.

According to Bob Craig, chief of Fort Detrick’s Environmental Management Office, the Army is considering closing off a portion of the trail “in order to keep people away from the waste and contaminated surface water,” but no final decisions have been made about contaminant cleanup.

Silver Spring resident Barbara Schubert, founder of the Save Our Trail coalition, said this is not the first time the Army has considered closing the trail.

The Army acquired the trail and woodlands through eminent domain in 1942 as part of the National Park Seminary, a boarding school for girls that opened in 1894. The Seminary was later used as a place to treat ailing soldiers returning from World War II, she said. Use of the Seminary for this purpose ended about 50 years ago and the land was eventually given to Montgomery County, though the trail and part of the woodlands stayed in the Army’s possession, she said. The 3/4-mile trail has always remained open to public.

Schubert said the Army attempted to close the trail to the public in November 2007 as a matter of security. The Army revealed its master plan for the future of the Annex, which included the proposal of a new perimeter fence that would close to the public most of the southern section of Ireland Drive, also known as the Carriage Trail, she said.

The office of U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington hosted a meeting in January 2008 with the county’s parks department, the Army and members of Save Our Seminary and the Save Our Trail coalition. Shortly thereafter, the Army decided not to move the fence, she said.

Though she is unsure what caused the change in the plan, Schubert believes the coalition “had some part in it.”

Schubert, whose backyard abuts the trail, has lived in her home for 10 years. She started the Save Our Trail coalition about seven years ago and had the support of about 400 people in the area who supported the trail’s public access.

“I think it is used more and more as the population increases around the Seminary,” Schubert said. “It’s just a rare resource no matter how you look at it. ... We need to make every effort to preserve it and keep it available to the public.”

In 2008, the trail was designated as part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Legacy Open Space Program, which is a master plan that identifies the best resources in the county, according to Dominic Quattrocchi, a park planner for the county. The trail met the criteria for its natural resources and important cultural and historic resources.

Quattrocchi said that the trail remains one of the primary connectors of Sligo Creek and Rock Creek Park, which he said is a valuable resource to the community and the parks system.

“The fencing could eliminate logical acreage that could be added to Rock Creek,” Quattrocchi said. “If a fence goes in, there better be a very good justification rational for it. They’d be taking away a very well-used resources and, frankly, a very beautiful area from the public.”

A Restoration Advisory Board — comprised of representatives from the Army, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the EPA, local government officials and community members — was formed as a public forum for residents and stakeholders to voice concerns about the Army’s cleanup project.

Restoration Advisory Board co-chairman Donald Hall of Silver Spring, who is one of the community representatives, said he understands both sides of the argument, but is concerned with finding the middle ground.

“A lot of it is going to have to do with them figuring out the true extent of the landfills, and they haven’t quite done that yet,” Hall said. “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

The main question, Hall said, is how to protect the public from “whatever’s in that landfill.”

krose@gazette.net, scarignan@gazette.net