Cumberland Times-News

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November 11, 2013

Wildlands designation proposal elicits concerns

SWANTON — Residents who attended last week’s public hearing on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources possible designation of additional wildlands voiced concerns about it affecting the 150-mile Eastern Continental Divide Loop Trail, according to Bob Hoffman, president of the Property Owners’ Association of Deep Creek Lake.

The proposed properties in Garrett County total 8,514 acres, 1,600 of which are in the Garrett State Forest, according to John Nelson, county director of Planning and Land Development. The largest wildlands proposed is 3,993 acres of the Youghiogheny River Corridor, Maryland’s only “wild” river.

Garrett Trails and Garrett County Planning have voiced concerns about the wildlands proposal for the Yough. Mike Dreisbach, president of Garrett Trails, told The Baltimore Sun that planners hope to extend a trail along the river or at least improve a short trail near Friendsville that follows an old rail bed.

 “We're not pushing to make it into an interstate highway or anything,” Dreisbach said. “The more people that get to see it (river), the more people will want to protect it."

The Garrett County Planning Commission doesn’t agree with the wildlands proposal for the Yough Corridor because it will prohibit new trail development in that area, according to Nelson.  

“The planning commission felt that is was important to continue to allow the Eastern Continental Divide Loop trail to progress,” said Nelson during a Nov. 5 county commission meeting. “It sounds as though the department is digging their heels in and will not be willing to allow or negotiate further advancement of trails in the Youghiogheny Corridor. They are going to place that trail somewhere out of the viewshed (on the ridgeline) of the corridor.”

In response to Garrett Trails concerns, DNR noted that bicycles are currently used on the trail from Friendsville to Kendall Camp, an old logging community, according to County Commissioner Jim Raley.

“The department will consider recommending the continuation of the existing use. Those are words I don’t like. I kind of call those weasel words because those they are the kid words that we can always get out of,” said Raley during the commission meeting.

Jess Whittemore, Friendsville councilman, noted on the Garrett Trails Facebook page that the wildlands designation would stop bicycling on the Kendall trail from Friendsville south along the river. Under state law, motor vehicles and “mechanical transport,” which includes bicycles, are not permitted on wildlands.

The department uses the county’s master plan, which states that the county will work with the state to address concerns about the integrity of a section of the Yough River from Friendsville to Oakland, to make its case regarding the wildlands designation.

“I don’t know if our intent means that is a hands off, foots off, total off but that’s what they are doing using our words out of our plan to, in essence, try to make their case,” said Raley. “On any given whim they (the state) can change the rules. I’m deeply concerned at this land graph.”

 Residents have also voiced concerns about trees being destroyed by gypsy moths in the state forest, where treatments are not applied, and are also concerned about the moths destroying trees located on their property, according to Raley.

“We have worked well with the departments but if they are going to dig their feet in maybe it’s time we dig our feet in a little bit too,” said Raley. “This could be very detrimental to overall economics of the county and the utilization of these lands that we, the citizens of Maryland, own.”

The Property Owners’ Association isn’t planning on stating a position regarding the wildlands proposal, according to Hoffman.

“While protecting this land already owned by the state sounds like the right thing to do, and for many it is, there are restrictions on use of the land that come with the designation as wildlands,” writes Hoffman in an email. “For the most part, this designation means most people will only be able to access the land on foot — no bicycle or motorized traffic.”   

Wildlands are state-owned natural areas preserved for their wilderness character or sensitive natural resources.

The DNR is accepting public comments on the wildlands proposal until Dec. 9. Comments can be made via email to Wildlands@dnr.state.md.us, or by mail to: Wildlands Comments; Attention Rich Norling; Maryland Department of Natural Resources; 580 Taylor Ave., C4; Annapolis, MD 21401.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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