May-June 2011 | May-June 2011

Since You Asked: May-June 2011

Questions and answers about the Bethesda area.

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What’s the history of the Capital Crescent Trail? When was the railroad built, and how long did the tracks sit idle before being made into a trail?

—Jesse Kornblum, Silver Spring

The Capital Crescent Trail follows the Georgetown Branch rail line. Completed in 1910, the line carried coal and building supplies, including stone to build the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington National Cathedral, from Silver Spring to Georgetown until service was discontinued in 1985, according to William M. Offutt, author of Bethesda: A Social History (1995).

Community and environmental groups formed the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail the next year to coordinate efforts to build a hiker-biker trail along the 11-mile path.

The trail “was built up in sections, and very slowly,” says coalition vice chair Peter Gray of Silver Spring.

Montgomery County, which had purchased the right-of-way for the section from Silver Spring to Bethesda in 1988, funded track removal in 1996. Other incremental upgrades included the opening of the Wisconsin Avenue tunnel in 1998, and the 2003 opening of the Rock Creek trestle.

“The Capital Crescent Trail has always been a work in progress,” Gray says, “and the fat lady won’t sing until the trail extends to the transit center in Silver Spring.” The completion of that section, he adds, depends on the fate of the proposed Purple Line.

Are there any prominent Civil War sites in Montgomery County?

—Charlie Cook, Chevy Chase

What a timely question, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Civil War sites abound in Montgomery County, “but most of them are pretty much unmarked,” says Vivian Eicke, president of the Montgomery County Civil War Roundtable.

One of many examples: The grounds of Richard Montgomery High School once housed a Union Army hospital, Eicke says.

Among the more obvious sites is a monument at Georgia Avenue and 16th Street in Silver Spring that memorializes Confederate soldiers who died in battle at Fort Stevens and are buried in a cemetery nearby.

And the site of Union camps along the C&O Canal near Pennyfield Lock in Darnestown is preserved in Blockhouse Point Conservation Park, named for blockhouses built there by Union troops and later burned by Confederate soldiers.

How is the wording on ballot questions determined?

—Brooke Kenny, Takoma Park

Some ballot questions get their language directly from the name of a proposed amendment, or from a petition signed by at least 10,000 voters.

State or county officials write most other ballot questions. The secretary of state writes statewide constitutional amendments or referendums, and the language is certified by the state board of elections, according to Donna J. Duncan, Maryland’s election management director. County attorneys draft questions for local issues, and the language is approved by the county council for that locale.

Duncan says some county attorneys seek feedback from interest groups before finalizing the language on controversial ballot questions. In Montgomery County, opponents get a chance to voice their opinions about the ballot language before the county council approves it, says Michael Faden, senior legislative attorney for the council. If they don’t succeed in getting it changed, they can pursue the matter in court.

That’s what happened in 2008, when slot machine opponents filed a lawsuit charging that the wording of a question on legalizing slots put too much emphasis on potential benefits to education. The result: The state’s highest court ruled that one word had to be added to the question, to note that education would be the “primary” beneficiary of revenue generated.

“Opponents want to tilt the language some- times, but we try to keep it down the middle,” Faden says. “Otherwise, the courts step in.”

Have a question you’d like answered about someone or something in the Bethesda area? E-mail your question to sinceyouasked@bethesdamagazine.com. Please include your name and the city in which you live.