Buried beneath overgrown shrubs and muddy puddles, a hidden jewel of a trail may be soon recovered that would help connect Georgetown and the Palisades. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently considering various options to revitalize the former Glen Echo Trolley Trail.
Over the 60 years since trolleys last rumbled along the hills above the eastern bank of the Potomac, the trail has steadily fallen into disuse and disrepair. Indeed, the “trail” isn’t really a trail anymore. Without proper drainage, rainwater accumulates along pathways, rendering long sections impassable due to mud and ponds of stagnant water. Other sections have become overgrown with shrubs and weeds, or are strewn with fallen bamboo.
Walking the extent of the trail is an arduous and hazardous endeavor. In place of trestles that once connected the trail’s segments, there are steep and narrow inclines suited only for the most avid of urban hikers, not to mention road crossings that are impossible to navigate safely. People with children’s strollers, bicycles, wheelchairs, or who simply lack robust knees and ankles cannot traverse the whole thing. As a result, few in the Foxhall-Palisades community regularly use it, despite the scenic views and convenient connections it offers.
DDOT is currently studying options to bring the trail back to a state that local residents can enjoy. If the initiative goes forward, we could recover a wonderful green resource for people to travel safely and cleanly across the Palisades and Foxhall.
Initial considerations include laying down a surface (such as stabilized granite) that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and would be suitable for walking, low-speed biking, and use with mobility aids. Proposals should also address water runoff and drainage issues on the trail, provide pedestrian bridges or signaled crossings over busy traffic intersections, and link to the renovation of the Foundry Branch Trestle, which will be taken down if not refurbished.
Paving over paradise?
The trail runs entirely on a wide swath of public land, though there are some nearby homes along Sherier Place and Potomoc Avenue. A small but vocal group of residents, mainly those with properties abutting the trail, have taken issue with the revitalization plans that are under consideration.
Newly-printed “Save not Pave” signs can now be seen outside several homes on Sherier Place. In the public consultation meetings with DDOT, these residents claim that they are concerned about the environmental impact of the revitalization effort. In private conversations, many have also shared concerns that more people on the trail will infringe on their privacy.
The Friends of the Trolley Trail and the Palisades Family Network, a group of families in the Foxhall-Palisades neighborhood that have come together on shared concerns and interests, believe that opponents of the revitalization efforts have a myopic view of the proposal.
“Some neighbors have expressed opposition to ‘paving paradise.’ That’s not what we’re advocating for at all. The idea is to keep it as natural as possible, while making it usable. It’s our trail, it’s a community resource on public land, and we want to be able to use it. Whether you’re a mom with a stroller, a child learning to bike, or a person with a cane, it should be accessible to all,” says Chris Hart, a member of Friends of the Trolley Trail.
“There are four schools along this trail, and as DC pursues Vision Zero, it is important that children have a safe option to cycle to school. The Capital Crescent Trail does not serve this purpose, as there is limited access from most of the Foxhall-Palisades area to the CCT and the CCT is more suited to avid bikers anyway,” Amy Del Solar, another member of the group, pointed out.
The Palisades Citizens Association (PCA) is working on “middle ground principles” that support trail revitalization while preserving its natural feel. A first draft of these principles was shared online recently, and a survey of the Foxhall-Palisades was conducted by the PCA. The survey indicated that a majority of residents support improvements to the trail.
Avi Green, President of the PCA, said, “It doesn’t have to be a choice between asphalt and doing nothing. There is room for a compromise that will result in the trail being more usable and more sustainable that does not compromise its natural qualities.”
No more missed opportunities
Many in the Palisades regret what they consider missed opportunities in the neighborhood in recent years. For instance, long-standing opposition by a small group to a full-service Safeway with residential space and underground parking has resulted in the closure of Safeway.
The neighborhood now has no grocery store, and is left instead with a boarded-up building with potential plans for a for-profit expansion without community benefit. Similarly, many opposed a fully built-out community center with basketball court and a swimming pool, and now many consider the half-measure renovation—while wonderful—a missed opportunity.
“Raising young children, it is all but impossible for many of us to attend the various ANC and planning meetings related to initiatives in our neighborhood. The more I discussed some of these development and approval issues with neighbors, the more I began to suspect that our voice was being drowned out by what I believe is a small but organized group generally opposed to change. We needed to put our views out there too, and have our voice heard,” says Palisades Family Network member James Brothers. “We welcome anyone who wants to join us and shares our commitment to improving the neighborhood.”
Want to support the revitalization of the Trolley Trail?
If you’d like to weigh in on the project, you can attend the next Community Consultation meeting with DDOT on July 23 at 6:30 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown. You can also sign the Palisades Family Network’s petition here.