Cumberland Times-News

September 4, 2013

What’s the best vision for the Potomac River?

Cumberland Times-News

— There are two very distinct visions of how to reconnect the city of Cumberland with the Potomac River.

The purpose of this commentary is to address these visions. The end product of these visions can lead to very different results for the citizens of Cumberland.

The first vision is formulated by outside organizations who seemingly have the interests of Cumberland at heart, but are really pushing their own agenda.

The problem is that once their vision is implemented and they leave town, Cumberland may have lost a valuable resource that could generate considerable economic benefit for local citizens as well as satisfying fishery needs.

The first vision removes the dam and returns the Potomac River to a free-flowing natural river as it passes through Cumberland.

At the recent public meeting in the museum, an endless loop of slides showed before and after views of dam removals. The slides were picturesque.

The implication was that the dam removal would lead to a picturesque free-flowing river teaming with wildlife in Cumberland. Unfortunately, the first vision presented is not what would happen. The problem is flood control.

A series of levees were constructed to protect Cumberland. Normally, levees are constructed linearly and planted with grass to help speed the water past the area being protected. This is the normal Army Corps strategy.

For Cumberland, the issue is that when the dam is removed and American Rivers and DNR move on to the next dam removal, the levees as we see them now will most likely be how everyone will see them in the future.

Photographically, the mowed grass below Cumberland makes an excellent picture. Add a boat ramp for the occasional boater.

However, from a use perspective, other than the occasional child playing on the levee or wading in the river underneath the Western Maryland railroad bridge, the channelized river encourages little recreational use and provides little economic benefit as it waits for the next catastrophic flood.

Label the second vision as the River Walk vision. It is a working label for the vision that emerged during the river visioning session several years ago.

However, in terms of reconnecting Cumberland with the river, Cumberland probably has more in common with Reno, Nev., and their revitalization of the Truckee River. More on both Reno and the River Walk later.

The River Walk vision is appealing. It is a 3.5 mile park supervised by the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. Over a million people visit it each year and it infuses over a billion dollars a year into the local community.

At the time Robert H. H. Hugman championed the River Walk concept in 1927, one recommendation was to fill in what is now the River Walk.

Like the San Antonio River, the Potomac River is an asset that if properly developed can help to revitalize downtown Cumberland. Canal Place already provides the possible infrastructure.

Although there are some significant differences that preclude duplicating the River Walk here, it can provide significant insights to help Cumberland develop its vision for the Potomac River.

A tale of two visions began by suggesting two distinctly different visions for the river.

The objectives of American Rivers and the DNR need not be in opposition with the developmental approach of the River Walk. Canal Place can provide an important component in the revitalization of the river by embracing the river as part of their attraction.

Whether the dam stays or is removed, it is important for Cumberland to develop a vision for the Potomac River that is distinctly Cumberland’s vision.

Robert B. Kauffman