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County Installs New Signs Identifying Rural and Rustic Roads

Montgomery County has taken another step to protect its rural and agricultural heritage by installing newly designed road signs highlighting the historic nature of the County’s 98 Rustic Roads.

According to MCDOT spokesperson Esther Browing, the Montgomery County Rustic Roads Program preserves the historical and scenic roadways that reflect the agricultural character and rural origins of the County. “A citizen advisory group, the Rustic Roads Advisory Committee, helps the County promote public awareness of the County's rustic roads program, and reviews the classification of roadways designated as ‘rustic,’” said Bowring.

“The Rustic Roads Advisory Committee asked MCDOT to install with brown street name signs identifying rural and rustic roads. The unique sign design is intended to enhance awareness amongst the general public about the significance of the county’s rustic road program and the cultural and aesthetic features of these roads.”

According to Laura Van Etten, a member of the Rustic Roads Advisory Committee, “The basic qualifications for a Rustic Road are that it is located in an area where natural, agricultural, or historic features are predominant, is a narrow road intended for predominantly local use, has outstanding natural features along its borders, such as native vegetation, stands of trees, stream valleys, or has outstanding vistas of farm fields and rural landscapes or buildings, or provides access to historic resources or follows historic alignments.”

Earlier this month, County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council President Roger Berliner, along with Councilmembers Marc Elrich, along with MCDOT Deputy Director Emil Wolanin, and members of the Rustic Roads Advisory Committee gathered at the intersection of Martinsburg Road and Wasche Road in Dickerson to celebrate the installation of the new road signs.

According to Van Etten, “Martinsburg Road, in particular, is in the Historic Preservation master plan of the County. It is one of two remaining ‘politicians roads,’ having a narrow one-lane concrete center, the concrete portion alone constructed in 1931 for those wealthy enough or with enough political clout to get their own road for early automobile use. We picked the location based upon that, as well as the fact that we could park and get organized at the nearby Gothic Dairy Barn at Linden Farm (historic designation and now the site where Sugarloaf Citizens Association meets). Also, the intersection with Wasche is very wide, and a beautiful Seneca stone wall goes along the road.”

The brown signs contain a special Rustic Roads logo designed by Olney resident Rodger Nelson.

The County’s Rustic Roads are designated into two groups, Rustic Roads, and Exceptional Rustic Roads. According Van Etten, an Exceptional Rustic Road contributes significantly to the natural, agricultural, or historic characteristics of the County. It has unusual features found on few other roads in the County and would be more negatively affected by improvements or modifications to the physical characteristics of the road than would most other roads in the rustic roads program.

In 1989, the County Council appointed a Task Force to Study a Rural Roads Program, which then became the Rustic Roads Program. The task force’s report was presented to council in 1990, and the Rustic Roads became official designation in 1993. Two members of that original task force are still active in County government — Glenn Orlin, now staff to the council and Gwen Marcus, who is now the Director of Planning for the County. Both were at the unveiling in Dickerson.

“While this program has existed since 1993, and people who drive or bike or run on these roads can see that they are special,” said Van Etten, who lives along one of the roads. “They wouldn't know the work that has gone into keeping them rustic appearance by preventing widening and keeping gravel roads unpaved. The signs will help signify that these roads are different, and we hope that the logo on the brown signs will become more recognizable over time and will help generate support and appreciation for the roads.” According to Van Etten, MDOT plans to have all the signs installed by the end of June.