CUMBERLAND — Several state and local government representatives, along with natural resource officials and area proponents of the Potomac River attended a boat launch on Friday to promote river recreation and show support for the creation of a launching site on the river.
Cumberland City Council members Nick Scarpelli and Nicole Wagoner, along with Jim Thompson, a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Serena McClain of American Rivers, a Washington based organization that supports river projects, attended the launch.
“This is another way to get people to utilize the river. When people use it they become better stewards of the river,” said McClain.
Two kayaks and a canoe were launched from the banks into the Potomac from a site just below the Canal Place property. Thompson, Scarpelli and Wagoner, as well as local river proponent Roger Powers of Ridgeley, W.Va., took to the water.
“We want to raise awareness. The DNR in general wants to get more access to the river for fishing and recreation,” said Thompson.
Also present at the event were Julianna Albowicz from Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s office; Robin Summerfield, field representative for Sen. Ben Cardin; Dee Dee Ritchie, executive director of Canal Place; and Stuart Czapski, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
“The number of people coming to Canal Place is impressive; adding river recreation would bring that much more,” said Thompson.
The scenic railroad and the Great Allegheny Passage have increased tourism for Canal Place and Cumberland, according to tourism statistics.
“If there were a water aspect to it, it would be great. You could bike and you could get on the water,” said McClain.
Several officials that advocate for the river have been supporting smaller projects since the larger River Project has slowed while funding is sought.
The River Project plans for the removal of the dam beneath the Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge to develop a recreation area and return the waterway to its natural state.
However, funding in the amount of $75,000 needed for testing the sediment behind the dam for toxins has been slow in coming.
“There is a chance we will move forward with (testing) this fall. I’m talking to the Maryland Geological Survey to do some of the work,” said McClain.
However, there are no guarantees.
“There’s a chance it may have to wait until spring,” said McClain.
Preliminary testing of the sediment three years ago showed the presence of toxins such as dioxin.
However, McClain has been encouraged that the toxins found did not seem to be deep in the sediments.
“Those tests we did then showed the toxins were near the surface and not deeper,” said McClain.
More comprehensive testing will be needed to reveal the scope of any cleanup project that may be required to move forward.
River advocates are remaining optimistic.
“I really believe we can brand our area as a health and wellness community,” said Wagoner.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.