CUMBERLAND — This June will mark one year on the job for Dee Dee Ritchie, the executive director for the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority, who remains committed to overcoming the myriad of challenges accompanying the operation of the tourism hub.
“It needs to be finished,” said Ritchie.
Ritchie wants to see the original vision of an efficient, well designed tourism center to become a reality.
After working at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for 23 years, Ritchie came to Canal Place.
“When I worked at the DNR, I use to see this place and say, ‘I wish I could have that job.”
Ritchie has many plans for the property. During an interview at Canal Place on Thursday, she talked about everything from her current project of establishing a trailhead to the creation of a canoe and kayak river entry and even the controversial Footer Dye Works.
Some of her views, including her current take on Footer project, may surprise.
“Either the state needs to come in and put the money into it or it goes,” said Ritchie of the Footer building.
Ritchie is referring to a scenario that Canal Place may face if no developers are willint to take the property when the requests for offers go out later this summer.
A developer will be sought again in August for the historic structure, after options expire on the adjacent lot known as parcel B, freeing the property for future expansion, including additional parking.
“We can’t afford to keep taking care of it,” said Ritchie.
However, Ritchie remains optimistic, saying there are interested parties.
Currently, a top priority for Canal Place is the establishment of a trailhead for the Great Allegheny Passage at the eastern edge of the Western Maryland Railway Station.
“We are at mile zero for the towpath. We’re the midway point between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. We need a nice trailhead,” said Ritchie.
Ritchie said all other towns that have major trails going through them have a trailhead.
The trailhead will include new signs, disabled access, two shelters, bike racks and benches.
“We use the area a lot,” said Fred Cook, a resident of Cumberland, who was walking the trail with his wife Della on Thursday.
“It’s nice. I also jog here a good bit,” said Fred Cook.
“It does need signs. It’s not marked very well,” said Della Cook.
Ritchie has secured a meeting with CSX officials to try to establish an easement or memorandum of understanding that would allow Canal Place to utilize the railroad bridge that is currently off limits.
CSX has posted signs on the bridge that deny its use. This forces trail users to be diverted around the festival grounds only to link back to the trail at the railway station.
Ritchie hopes she can get permission to make the needed repairs to the railroad bridge and then open it so it can become one straight line.
Grants from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority and the federally funded Transportation Alternatives Program along with Recreational Trail Grants are being sought to cover the expenses.
Ritchie hopes to secure $200,000 for the improvements.
Another project Canal Place is pursuing is the establishment of a canoe and kayak entry access for the North Branch of the Potomac River. The first step, testing of the water quality, has already been ordered from the Allegany County Health Department.
The proposed location for the river entry point is about a quarter-mile east of the railway station near the road access to the towpath, off of Canal Parkway.
Ritchie has inherited a lot of challenges but remains confident.
“This is supposed to be the Mecca for tourism in Allegany County,” said Ritchie.
For the overall success of Canal Place, Ritchie feels all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
“The Great Allegheny Passage is now here. The scenic railroad is bringing in thousand every year and we have the canal and towpath, the festival grounds. The Farifield Inn was another part of the puzzle because we needed a place for people to stay,” said Ritchie.
“Things just need to be finished,” she said.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.