It’s been almost 30 years since CSX abandoned the Georgetown Branch rail line and almost 20 years since part of the Capital Crescent Trail was dedicated on much of that same stretch of land.
The conversion from railroad to heavily used bike and pedestrian trail through Bethesda didn’t happen overnight and definitely didn’t happen by accident.
For most of the last three decades, a group called the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail fought for public opinion, county support and federal funding to make the seven-mile section from Georgetown to Bethesda a reality.
Leading many of those efforts was Bethesda resident John Dugger, a longtime board member of the Coalition who friends, family and trail supporters honored Friday with a plaque just off the trail as it passes through the Dalecarlia Reservoir.
“John saw the potential as a valuable community resource,” said Henri Bartholomot, an advocate who helped Dugger secure key federal funding in 1991 to develop the trail. “A decade later, one of the really vocal opponents in the [Fort] Sumner neighborhood came by and said, ‘This is such a great asset.’ That was really one of my favorite memories from the whole process.”
The Coalition got together with Montgomery Parks to create and install the plaque, which credits Dugger as a “Capital Crescent Trail Visionary.” Dugger, who recently turned 90, wasn’t able to make it out to the ceremony. His daughter put the proceedings on the video chat function of her phone so Dugger could watch from home.
A number of Coalition members and Parks staff spoke. So did Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Councilmember Nancy Floreen, a former member of the Planning Board who remembered how many in Bethesda neighborhoods weren’t so keen on seeing the former railroad be turned into a trail.
Floreen remembered a Planning Board session about the abandoned railroad in which Ed Muskie, the former senator and secretary of state, strolled in. It turned out Muskie, known as the father of the modern environmental movement, owned a condo near the path and opposed turning it into a trail.
“Believe it or not, not everybody was really enthusiastic about it,” Floreen said.
Bartholomot said one of the key actions Dugger took was convincing those same residents — many in the Fort Sumner neighborhood — that the trail would have a positive impact on their communities.
After convincing Montgomery County to buy its section of the railroad right of way in 1988, Congress and the National Park Service worked out a deal with philanthropist Kingdon Gould Jr. to buy the portion of the right of way from the D.C. line to Georgetown.
The pieces were in place, but Dugger and the Coalition still needed the funding to remove railroad ties and pave a path.
Dugger, a retired naval officer and specialist in international law, took on what was practically another job — helping to secure Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funds in 1991. In December 1996, the Capital Crescent Trail from Georgetown to Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda was built and formally dedicated.
The Coalition has since pushed for a number of improvements and the completion of the trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring, a process that is now wrapped up in plans to build the Purple Line light rail along the Georgetown Branch Trail extension.