Cumberland Times-News

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September 21, 2013

Off-road trails eyed for state wildlife site

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is proposing to establish two off-road vehicle trails on the Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area in Washington County.

The agency wants to know what the public thinks about this idea. Comments may be sent no later than Oct. 4 to jperdue@dnr.state.md.us.

By going to http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/orv_Projects.asp, maps of the proposed trails may be seen.

A public meeting was conducted on Sept. 4 at New Germany State Park,  where the two Washington County trails were lumped in with a proposed Garrett County trail. Unfortunately for Washington County residents, that meeting was two counties and more than an hour away.

Ray Givens, legislative representative for the five-county Western Maryland Sportsmen’s Coalition, complained. Now a second meeting will take place, this one on Wednesday, 7 p.m. at the Town Hall in Hancock, 126 West High St.

Givens, a Hancock resident, said the coalition plans to formally oppose the trails on the WMA.

Among his concerns is the water quality of Sideling Hill Creek, a trout stream, and how that would be affected by sediment flowing downhill from ORV trails.

In fact, DNR states on its website, “The overriding goal of this area is to provide forest wildlife habitat and protection for water quality in Sideling Hill Creek.”

The agency closed an ORV trail in Garrett County because of impact upon Poplar Lick and the trout there.

Jerry Zembower, president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Foundation, said this week that he protests ORV trails on any WMA.

“If the state wants to make trails they should be in state parks,” Zembower said. “Hunting is our recreation and these lands were acquired for hunters.”

In fact, Ed Golden, a retired DNR wildlife biologist now living in Wyoming, said he remembers WMAs originally being called public hunting areas.

Golden said the name change came about under the wildlife leadership of Don McLaughlin a few decades back.

Zembower is concerned that if ORV trails are part of the Sideling Hill WMA that they could be put on other WMAs throughout the state.

The Wildlife & Heritage Service oversees the management of 47 wildlife management areas, ranging in size from fewer than 20 acres to more than 29,000 acres.

The WMA system encompasses a total of 111,000 acres, with WMAs located in 18 of Maryland's 23 counties.

The Sideling Hill WMA has 3,100 acres in two parcels.

Zembower said the same thing that happened on the now-closed ORV trail on the Green Ridge State Forest will happen at Sideling Hill.

“The trails will get rough or people will want to try something new and cut through the woods on ORVs,” Zembower said. He anticipates as well confrontations between ORV users and hunters.

“If you are in a tree and here comes an all-terrain vehicle, your hunt is done,” Zembower said. “It’s happening in the Frederick Watershed all the time.”

Although the state website proposes closing the trail in Garrett County during hunting seasons, no wording to that effect is included for the Sideling Hill WMA.

Other site management goals for Sideling Hill WMA, as listed on the website, are:

• This area is managed to provide habitat for game and non-game wildlife species including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, gray and fox squirrels, ruffed grouse, and songbirds.  

• Agricultural fields and small herbaceous wildlife openings are planted and maintained to provide feeding and brood rearing habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Off-road vehicle use is not mentioned as a goal.

The Nature Conservancy owns 700 to 800 acres in the Sideling Hill Creek floodplain, according to spokeswoman Donnelle Keech.

Keech said TNC had a representative in the DNR’s stakeholder group that looked at public locations for trails.

“We think it is important for people to get outside, no matter the way they do it, including riding bikes or ATVs,” Keech said. “But, we believe, too, that they should be good stewards and follow any rules that have been established to prevent environmental impacts.”

An email I sent to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service asking if DNR is at risk of losing any Pittman-Robertson funds if trails are allowed on the WMA was not answered.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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