by Stephen Gunnulfsen
More than 20 years after it was created,one of the most popular trail riding venues in central Maryland is about to undergo a major facelift. If all goes according to plan, as early as late this fall, work could begin on rebuilding the equestrian trail network in Little Bennett Regional Park near Clarksburg.
The newly designed trails at this 3,700-acre Montgomery County park will mean at least 30 percent longer trails, more trailer parking spaces, easier access to the trailheads, and trails that are environmentally sensitive and sustainable. At least two existing trails – Cider Mill and Loggers Trail – will be eliminated to make way for the innovative loop network, park officials said.
“Little Bennett Regional Park is an extraordinary resource; there’s nothing like it in the county,” said Bob Turnbull, senior natural resources specialist with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC). Turnbull is the manager of the approximately four-year, $200,000 trail network project.
He pointed out that the park’s original equestrian trails were laid out using old farm and logging roads at a time when there was little concern about long range, environmental sustainability. Over the years, the trails have taken a beating as an estimated 67,500 people visit the park annually. No fi gures on the number of equestrians who use the park are available.
The new trails at Little Bennett will be narrower than the existing 12-16 foot wide bridle paths. Th ey will have a tread
or fl oor width of three or four feet, while the clearance width will be six to eight feet, Turnbull said. Th e park will remain open during the height of the trail construction work, but some sections of the equestrian trails will be closed. This summer, Turnbull and the MNCPPC staff are doing final planning for the work and conducting a survey in the park to ensure that the new
trails don’t adversely impact any rare or endangered plants and animals.
Although Little Bennett contains approximately 23 miles of trails, equestrians currently have access to only about 15 miles of them. When the new network is completed, this will grow to 20 miles, Turnbull said. By comparison, the recently opened network at the Woodstock Equestrian Center near Darnestown has about 17 miles of horse trails.
Equestrians will still have to share the trails with mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers, and anyone else in the park. In addition, areas around the campground that are currently designated “Hikers Only” will remain that way, in order to protect some rare natural resources.
For years, Little Bennett has been enjoyed by equestrians from around the state, making it one of the favorite sites for the organized rides of Trail Riders of Today (TROT). Although it’s a long drive from her home in Woodsboro, TROT Vice President Marilynn Miller said she is a regular at Little Bennett because there is nothing like it in Frederick County.”