Early years: A short-lived rail line is abandoned.
Boat for transporting Navy employees, in dry dock on railroad car bed at Dahlgren, 1926.
1942 During World War II, the United States government needed a railroad right-of-way to connect the north-south Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. With the Dahlgren Military Facility in King George County, Virginia, located on Route 3 and the Potomac River, the rail line was needed to transport material, weapons and personnel for the war effort. Consequently, the U.S. government acquired through condemnation, a simple corridor from Fredericksburg to Dahlgren and built the railroad during 1942-1943. The corridor had a width of about 100 to 300 feet with a length of approximately 16.7 miles.
1957-1963 After World War II and the Korean War concluded and regional roads improved, the need for the rail line evaporated. The Dahlgren Branch Line operated until 1957, during which time it was also used as a passenger line. Afterwards, the rail line then sat idle and was declared surplus.
1965 The U.S. Government offered the Dahlgren Branch for sale by auction. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad acquired it.
1990 The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad (RF&P) removed most of the rails from an unused King George County segment of the Dahlgren Branch.
1993-1994 The local Century 21 Realty office had a contract to sell the land for CSX Inc., the successor to the RF&P Railroad. CSX entered into a sales contract with Edwards Grain & Fertilizer, Inc., but the sale fell through. After contacting all adjoining property owners, Century 21 held a meeting and offered to sell the property in its entirety to the adjacent property owners. Not enough property owners were interested, so the rail corridor property remained on the market. The King George County administrator unsuccessfully proposed that the King George Board of County Supervisors obtain the railroad property with an ISTEA Grant (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act).
1995-1997 King George resident Joe Williams began negotiations with CSX Transportation to purchase the abandoned rail line. In 1997, Williams obtained a contract for purchase and wrote a letter along with Jo Turek, Director of Parks & Recreation, to the King George Board of County Supervisors. In his letter, he advised them that he was willing to sell the railroad property to the county, and that the ISTEA Grant remained a viable means of obtaining the rail corridor for recreational purposes. Turek also offered a plan to seek an American Greenways grant for the purposes of obtaining the trail. The Board of County Supervisors declined to support the proposal. Williams completed his purchase of the railroad corridor in December 1997, and continued to promote the property as a county-owned or sponsored trail.
1998-1999 David Brickley, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Prince William County from 1976 to 1998, was appointed by VA Governor Jim Gilmore to direct the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. An avid hiker and trails leader, Brickley initiated annual trails and greenway conferences. The “Dahlgren Junction Trail” was included on the “Connecting Our Commonwealth” map at the 1999 Governor’s Conference on Greenways & Trails.
2000 The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation was contacted by members of the local King George County Sierra Club to gauge the department’s interest in acquiring the corridor for land protection as a rail-trail with a connection to Caledon Natural Area (now Caledon State Park). Brickley and DCR staff members visited the property and agreed that it could be a significant rail-to-trail project as well as a wetlands preservation area. Brickley required that prior to acquisition by the Commonwealth, a resolution of support would be required from the King George Board of County Supervisors, with no financial cost to King George County. The Board of Supervisors did not issue an approval, and the rail corridor remained in private hands.
2001 The trail was listed in the 2001 updated Virginia Outdoors plan. The 2000 Virginia Outdoors survey revealed strong public support for recreational opportunities, especially for trails. Williams pursued options for turning the abandoned rail line into a community trail with no success, due in large part to a lack of support from the county’s Board of Supervisors. The King George County Planning Commission detailed preservation of the railroad property for conservation and recreation in its draft comprehensive plan. But under pressure from adjacent landowners, all reference to the development of the rail bed was later ordered deleted by the Board of Supervisors.
2002-2003 Brickley steps down as director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and is appointed by Governor Mark Warner to serve on the Virginia Board of Conservation and Recreation. Brickley enters into private negotiations to purchase the property from Williams and turn it into a rail-trail. Delegate Albert Pollard, Jr. introduces HB 1339, authorizing DCR to accept the rail corridor as a gift from the Conservation Fund, which would purchase it from Williams. The property is to be developed as a state rails-to trails project and managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The bill passes the House of Delegates unanimously and DCR announces the news (“Assembly Transfers Rail Bed”) and plans to integrate the rail trail into the Caledon Natural Area. Due to unexpected controversy, Delegate Pollard holds a King George County town hall meeting to hear and respond to concerns voiced by the trail’s neighbors. Although HB 1339 was revised, taking into consideration the citizen concerns, the Senate refers the bill back to committee, where it is carried over to the next year and not approved.
Williams sells off approximately one mile of the easternmost section of the trail by Route 301 to commercial interests. Additional sections are available for purchase.
Brickley purchases trail; Friends group forms
Early celebration with the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail.
2006 Williams and Brickley reach agreement for the sale and purchase of the remaining 15.7 miles of the rail corridor. Utility rights in the railroad corridor remain with Williams. Brickley contacts local media about his plans to conserve the corridor as a rail-trail. Interest springs rapidly among a group of local citizens, who with Brickley form the nonprofit Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail to improve and protect the corridor. The group elects King George County native and avid cyclist Dave Jones as president (a position he serves until May 2020). The Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail begin cleaning debris on the trail corridor, improving the trail base, and opening the use of the trail to all upon signing a use request. 2007 The Northern Virginia Shooting Facility and their lease partner, the Northern Virginia Gun Club, purchased 220 acres of property, bisected by the DRHT, in 1970 and built several rifle ranges on the property. The ranges on the southern end of the property were aligned with possible bullet impact across the property line onto the trail property; the railroad embankment was used as a target backstop. When the trail opened in 2006, the Gun Club posted “trail watchers” who called for a cease fire towards the DRHT. The NVSF approaches the Friends of the DRHT and Brickley to create a memorandum of understanding and a temporary bypass off the trail onto NVSF property to get around the impact zone of the rifle ranges until they can develop a permanent solution to their safety issues. Joint work parties install two gates on the trail, clear a three-foot wide rugged path through the woods on NVSF property and a simple 15-foot long bridge over a small creek. 2010 The NVSF share plans for a major four-bay pistol range that they designed and built next to the trail on the north side. It included a 60’ long and 8’ high concrete waste block wall constructed on the southern edge of the trail property to protect the pistol range users from the existing rifle range safety issues. They declined the Friends’ request to have the NRA do a safety evaluation of the ranges. 2011 The Caledon State Park Master Plan is adopted by the Board of Conservation and Recreation and recommends that the DRHT be made part of Caledon State Park as a multipurpose (bicycle) trail and become a part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail which extends from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. 2012 The Maryland Transportation Authority announces that the final environmental document for the Nice Bridge Improvement Project is approved by the Federal Highway Administration, which marks an end to the project’s planning phase for eventual construction of the bridge. It proposes to include a 10-foot wide two-way bicycle/pedestrian path. Construction is many years off.
"Thank you for your generous offer of a bargain sale of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail to the Commonwealth. Governor McAuliffe has asked the department to work with you on finding a way to bring this remarkable trail into our park system.
"Your vision, and that of the association, has made it possible for this remarkably beautiful and historic trail to become part of our awardwinning state park system...we look forward to the day when this becomes part of Caledon State Park and it is available for all Virginians to enjoy." — MOLLY JOSEPH WARD, VIRGINIA'S SECRETARY OF NATURAL RESOURCES, 2014
2014 Brickley sends a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe proposing that the DRHT be sold as a bargain sale, without profit to himself, and be included as part of Caledon State Park. The offer is positively received by the Governor and the Secretariat of Natural Resources.
2015 The Northern Virginia Shooting Facility starts a letter-writing campaign to members of the Virginia legislature to oppose a budget amendment introduced by Senator Emmitt Hanger to authorize DCR to purchase the trail. The amendment does not pass. Consequently, the Friends of DRHT cancel the MOU with the NVSF and returns the trail to its original alignment, which is also ADA compliant.
Elections for several King George Board of County Supervisors seats see Ruby Brabo running for an at-large position largely on a platform of supporting the DRHT’s acquisition by the state -- and winning.
2016 A General Assembly resolution to make the DRHT part of Caledon State Park moves forward until an anonymous amendment surfaces in the Senate Finance Committee prohibiting the state from acquiring the trail, even as a gift.
King George Chairman Brabo contacts Gov. McAuliffe’s Chief of Staff, Paul J. Reagan, to set up a meeting regarding the Budget amendments and the closing of the sale on the DRHT prior to July 1, 2016. Governor McAuliffe strikes the language in the appropriation bill, but his amendment is defeated on a majority vote. The final budget bill prohibits any acquisition of property for a state park unless approved by the General Assembly.
Brickley writes DCR Director Clyde Cristman requesting that the Commonwealth acquire the DRHT prior to the effective date of July 1, 2016 budget. Cristman discusses this but determines that requirements could not be met and to complete the acquisition prior to July 1. Donald Briggs, Superintendent, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, writes to support the state acquisition as “an exceptional addition to the evolving Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.”
In October, King George Board of Supervisors Chairman Ruby Brabo, the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, and Brickley sign memorandum of understanding that the DRHT would be part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Brickley presents the Order of the Golden Spike award to each member of the Board of Supervisors for their support. In November, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announces $765 million for construction of Nice-Middleton Bridge Potomac River crossing from Charles County, Maryland to King George County. Construction would start in 2020 and open in 2023, seven years sooner than mandated by the state’s legislature.
2017 A productive meeting is convened to discuss how the new Nice Bridge could interface with the DRHT. Plans call for a bike lane on the south side of the bridge.
Peter Harnik, a co-founder of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, meets with Brickley to learn about DRHT and offers to help advocate for its acquisition by the state. In November, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam decisively wins the governor’s race.
A 2018 celebration of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail's designation by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Recreational Trail and as a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail Network.
2018 Brickley and the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail sign an agreement making the trail part of King George County’s park system while still owned by Brickley and maintained by the friends group. The County continues to support Virginia’s acquisition of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail and have it connected as a linear trail extension of Caledon State Park.
In May, the U.S. Secretary of Interior designates the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail as a National Recreation Trail.
2019 King George County, with the support of the Friend of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, is awarded a grant from the National Park Service through the Recreation Trails Community Assistance Program to advocate for the DRHT. Despite Maryland Governor Hogan’s previous pledge, the Maryland Transit Authority announces that the new Nice Bridge will not have bike/ped lanes. Maryland and Virginia advocates launch unsuccessful efforts to reverse the decision. After the November elections, Senator Stuart no longer chairs the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee and or serves on the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. King George County At-Large Supervisor Ruby Brabo is replaced by Ann Cupka. 2020 After 14 years serving as the president of the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, Dave Jones steps down. Jim Lynch, an original Friends member, is elected president.