What do You Think of my New Sneakers?

Today, Polly #3 took a ten mile hike on the C&O Canal towpath and had a series of incredible adventures. Naturally, most people have heard of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

Do you think there might be a bear in there?

At 3118′ in length, it’s one of the engineering wonders of the C&O Canal. However, few people know there is a much longer tunnel that sits abandoned in the woods about 100 yards from the C&O at the 138.5 mile area.

Nah, but it sure is dark!

Here’s a little bit of the history of the Indigo Tunnel.
At 4350′ in length, the tunnel was completed in 1904 and was an important part of the Western Maryland Railroad until the last train passed through May 21, 1975 (www.waymarking.com).

Today, the Indigo Tunnel seems to be lost in yesteryear, but, fortunately, all good things don’t always come to an end. The Western Maryland Rail Trail, a 23 mile long bike path, follows the old railroad bed, and when it’s extended from Pearre Station to Little Orleans, Md., it will pass through the Indigo Tunnel. Imagine that! The rail trail will have a bit of its own history that will rival the Paw Paw Tunnel’s fame, and it will actually be 1200′ longer!

In all, it was a great day to be a travel frog! Polly enjoyed exploring around this forgotten landmark, and afterward she refreshed herself near a small waterfall.

Okay, okay, it's not Niagara Falls, but it sure is pretty!

She’s definitely looking forward to going through the Indigo Tunnel on a bike someday and will definitely post just as soon as the trail extension is completed.

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7 Responses to “Polly #3 Rediscovers the Indigo Tunnel”

  1. I have been really excited about the Western Maryland Rail Trail being extended to Little Orleans for quite a while. I enjoy going through the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal, and the Indigo Tunnel would no doubt be just as exciting as a part of the WMRT. However, if it means the potential demise of an endangered bat species, I’m going to have to side with our winged friends. The old railroad runs beside the C&O all the way to Little Orleans, and the towpath could easily be used as a detour if the rail trail were extended.

  2. Since making the trip to the Indigo Tunnel, I have done a bit of research on the subject. Actually, the abandoned tunnel is home to five different species of bats, including the endangered Eastern Small-Footed Bat. Approximately 1400 bats hibernate there every winter, and the tunnel has become a subject for debate.

    Paving the tunnel and putting lights inside for the bicyclists would make it inhospitable for the bat population. However, extending the rail trail and incorporating the tunnel would bring valuable tourism to the area.

    Personally, I think this is a great topic for debate, and I would love to hear everybody’s opinion in regard to the “Bats versus Bicycles” situation. Fortunately, the possibility of re-routing the extended rail trail around the tunnel also exists. So there are several choices…

    A. Light up and pave the tunnel
    B. Reroute the rail trail around the tunnel
    C. Forget about it and ride on the C&O Towpath

  3. Okay, not bears, but lots of bats. Although bats aren’t my favorite creatures, it’s sad to hear about them losing their habitat because of recreational pursuits. My vote: B or C

  4. That’s very well put. It would be interesting to know what the bats did from 1904-1975 when the train went through the tunnel. Perhaps they were used to having their lives interrupted a few times each day. Who knows?

    The Paw Paw Tunnel (on the C&O) is unlit, and at 3118′ in length, there is plenty of darkness in there. However, it’s a very “touristy” place, and I have never noticed any wildlife in the tunnel. Thus, even allowing bikers to go through an unlit Indigo Tunnel would cause problems for the bat population.

    To the best of my knowledge, the state of Maryland purchased the old railroad bed a good while back, yet the rail trail extension hasn’t gone forward. I’m not really sure if the spokespeople for the bats have held it up or not. For that matter, times are tough, and it could be a lack of funds.

    At any rate, I agree that placing the “extinct” label on any animal is a large price to pay for our entertainment. I do hope that the Westen Maryland Rail Trail is extended to Little Orleans, but let’s hope that it’s done wisely and not at the expense of any creature.

  5. Thanks for your excellent comment. As mentioned, the Indigo Tunnel has been dormant since the mid-seventies, but with thanks to Laura Hohman(http://www.forums.caves.org/vi.....038;t=7948) I have learned a few more interesting tidbits on this topic.

    ~The Indigo Tunnel is the largest known bat hibernaculum in the state of Maryland.

    ~The Eastern Small-Footed Bat is: endangered in Maryland, threatened in Pennsylvania, and rare in West Virginia. WV is across the Potomac from the tunnel. and Pa. is just a few miles away.

    ~The Eastern Small-Footed Bat population in New York is plagued by a disease known as White Nose Syndrome. The two largest known hibernaculums were once in New York, and because of the disease, the Indigo Tunnel may be the largest resting area for this species.

    I wish I could give you a more complete answer to your question, but I’m not sure what the bats did before the construction and (later) abandonment of the tunnel. This, however, I do know: I have enjoyed learning the history of the Indigo Tunnel and fielding questions regarding the bat population. Neelam, thanks again!

  6. I just found this site, and I have to say that your post is excellent. You have a lot to say, and I mean that in a good way. 🙂 What is the big deal about disrupting the bats? The tunnel is man-made, so what did the bat population do before the tunnel was made? I’m not for or against the bats, but I’m just kind of wondering out loud.

  7. Tony the Tunnel Dude
    August 6th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    It looks like the tunnel is blocked off. Is there access to the tunnel? Can it be seen from the C&O Canal towpath?