Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — Two years after closing a pair of off-highway vehicle trails on state forests in Western Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources is close to living up to a promise to replace one of them with a loop in eastern Garrett County.
Citing environmental damage caused by improper use, the agency in April 2011 closed an 18-mile trail on the Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County and another along Poplar Lick on the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County.
“The Green Ridge closure cost business in Allegany County $1.6 million,” said Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine.
Valentine spoke at a meeting Monday in the county office complex. The Maryland OHV Alliance organized the gathering that was attended by the District 1 legislative delegation, county commissioners from Allegany and Washington counties, and DNR staffers including Secretary Joe Gill.
Paul Peditto, who heads the DNR effort to establish new trails, said a 13-mile trail in the St. John’s Rock area is approaching approval. That site is just south of the Finzel exit on Interstate 68. Slightly behind in the process are two trails in Washington County proposed for a wildlife management area and a natural resources management area on Sideling Hill.
“There is a lot of energy around this effort,” Gill noted. The secretary urged participants to study successful trail programs from other states.
Peditto anticipates a public comment period about the St. John’s Rock trail by late summer. A 12-month construction period would be required for completion.
Allegany County Commission President Mike McKay asked alliance spokesman Ken Kyler to come to a county work session to explain the search for new trails.
“Be prepared to answer all the tough questions,” McKay said. “There will be property owners up in arms because of anticipated noise levels.”
Although the proposed new trails are on public land, substantial discussion took place Monday about establishing them on private land as well.
“The first question that has to be dealt with is the liability issue,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly.
Delegate Wendell Beitzel said he is concerned about trail users leaving existing paths and wandering on to adjoining private lands that are not part of the established routes.
Much discussion centered on the possible placement of trails on reclaimed strip mine operations.
Sen. George Edwards said he hopes with the thousands of acres owned by DNR in Allegany and Garrett counties that a couple of trails could be established without using private lands.
Kyler, a Middletown resident, said the Hatfield-McCoy trail in West Virginia generates $20 million annually for businesses there. Development of trails in Maryland could include links that establish larger systems, he noted. He said an economic study of a trail in Minnesota discovered that each user spent an average of $190 per visit at local businesses.
Delegate LeRoy Myers Jr. urged the group to assure that small towns become part of the trail loops so that businesses would prosper.
Peditto said a private campground near the proposed St. John’s Rock trail should benefit economically once that project is done.
The use of OHVs is the fastest-growing form of recreation in the country, according to Steve Carr of the DNR.
Peditto said it is likely that OHV trails on public lands would be closed during peak hunting periods such as the deer firearms season.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at email@example.com.