Friends of Rural Roads is an all-volunteer advocacy group that seeks to preserve the gravel roads that remain in Frederick County, and other country roads that meet program requirements, in order to protect scenic and historic elements of the agricultural and forested rural landscape. It is not just the road itself but the adjacent landscape that must be protected. And while we all want to be able to enjoy the scenic beauty provided by that landscape there are also serious issues beyond the scenic and historic that are impacted by roadside maintenance. Those issues include climate change, a serious loss of biodiversity, and pollution.
Frederick County is fortunate to be home to approximately 400 miles of tar and chip, low-volume, low-speed roads, in addition to the truly amazing 43 miles of gravel roads. How the land adjacent to those roads is managed is very important and we feel it is time to have a conversation on one aspect of roadside maintenance: boom mowing. Boom mowing is using a mowing machine with an arm that extends very far from the edge of the road. These mowers are used to remove all vegetation, usually down to ground level, including small trees and shrubbery. The indiscriminate use of this mowing has led to roadsides that are almost devoid of the normal tall grasses, wildflowers, native shrubs, and trees that lined the road years ago. Much research has been done to demonstrate the positive impact that reducing or eliminating this practice could provide, especially with regard to climate change, bio-diversity and pollution.
Simply put, there is much to be gained by reviewing current policies regarding roadside mowing and changing them where possible, which is almost everywhere, but most especially on these small, low speed rural roads. Among the benefits are –
- Increased habitat (especially important in agricultural areas where much land has been cleared)
- Increased water filtration (especially important in agricultural areas where there is heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides)
- Air and noise pollution reduction, especially when vegetation is closer to road edge
- Traffic calming
- Better erosion control and reduction of silt into waterways
- Reduced maintenance costs for taxpayers, both in labor and equipment
- Reduced carbon emissions from roadside maintenance machinery
- Improved carbon sequestration
- Shade for all users with increased tree canopy
- Increased property values
- Maintaining the context and character of a disappearing landscape
There are studies to back up every one of these points but the place where we really need to start is with the conversation about how we can strike that very important balance between taking enough of nature to be able to have a functioning road and not unnecessarily destroying more. Friends of Rural Roads has begun that conversation through the Frederick County Roads Board Meeting that took place on Monday, March 1 at 7:00 pm. You can listen to the meeting and how to make public comments here –
(Testimony of Susan Hanson and Pam Burke-beginning at 3:30; discussion by Roads Board at
If you live or work in Frederick County we invite you to participate in the discussion, and to visit our website at https://ruralroadsfrederickmd.org/, or take a nature break by visiting us on Instagram @ruralroadsfredco .