Charlotte Hall, MD – There are trails and then there are trails.

Hiking, running and biking enthusiasts have all they could want in St. Mary’s County from one end to the other in the Three Notch Trail, once home to the Farmer’s Railroad before the Navy took it over in 1942.

The property was declared government surplus and the county assumed ownership in 1970, paving the way for the Three Notch Trail through farmland and communities.

Undertaken in phases, work on the project could extend well into the next decade, but has just completed a major step connecting the Laurel Grove trail to the northernmost section stretching from Thompson’s Corner Road to the Charles County border at Charlotte Hall.

“It’s getting lots of use,” St. Mary’s County Director of Recreation and Parks Brian Loewe noted. “It’s one of our most popular parks and that’s really what it is: An eleven-mile linear park. It’s a very popular amenity.”

The non-motorized path is 10 feet across and the asphalt surface is awesome for mothers with baby carriages, bicyclists and joggers.

“Some folks get on the trail at one section and do five miles or so and come back, some people ride the entire eleven miles,” Loewe said. “That’s something you can take half a day and do.”

The trail wasn’t cheap. The entire project cost $3.6 million, $1.7 million of which came from a grant the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration Transportation Enhancement Fund. Four other state grants helped close the gap before St. Mary’s County contributed $931,444.

“We are very grateful for those grants,” Loewe stressed. “When you think the project has cost $3.6 million and the county is only on the hook for $931,444, that’s amazing.”

Phase I in the north was completed in 2006. Phase II, from the Northern Senior Center to Debra Drive on the Charles County line—some 2.5 miles—was completed in 2008. Phase III, from Walmart to Wildewood in California, a two-mile stretch, soon followed; Phase V from Baggett Park in Lowell Grove to Maryland Route 5 of 2.65 miles opened in 2011; and the newly opened stretch, Phase VI, is approximately five miles.

Plans call for the trail to eventually run some 26 to 28 miles the length of the county including across FDR Boulevard, up to Leonardtown-Hollywood Road and Friendship School Road.

The trail also has connections to important landmarks, including the St. Mary’s County Visitor Center in Charlotte Hall, the Northern Senior Center and the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, and is close to eateries and amenities on some portions of the path.

As a constant walker, I would advise that if you’re going to walk the Three Notch Trail for any length of time, a good investment would be a pair of those gelatin inserts for your walking shoes.

Most of the trails I have encountered are dirt and root-based. Walk on the asphalt surface of Three Notch Trail for more than a few miles and your biscuits will be burning. The insoles do help.

Another aspect of walking or biking on the Three Notch Trail that folks do need to be aware of is safety. The crossings are marked and have warning lights for motorists, but I have personally witnessed cyclists waiting at the Route 5 marker for traffic to pause but folks just blast on through.

Pedestrians do have the right of way in Maryland at crosswalks. You’re bloody well supposed to stop. It’s the law.

“I encourage people when you come to a crossing to be super careful,” Loewe stated. “If you’re on a bike, dismount before crossing.”

There are crosswalk signals bikers or hikers can activate to let motorists know someone is waiting to cross. He said the county plans to add beacons at Baptist Church Road where the new section crosses.

“If you see something, please report it,” Loewe said. “We have an extremely good relationship with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and they will respond.

“The cool thing about the Three Notch Trail is that you can get on it anywhere,” he added. “You can go to the beginning or wherever you want to start. People know and park at different spots throughout it. Complete families are using it. It covers the whole gamut of use. We encourage residents to explore it. Use it.”

Contact Joseph Norris at