Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — Off-road vehicle users, hoping to use trails on Maryland’s public lands, dominated the discussion Tuesday at a Department of Natural Resources public meeting aimed at determining public desires for outdoor recreation.
The gathering at Allegany College of Maryland was one of three conducted throughout the state.
Although moderator John Wilson asked that participants take a “big picture” view of outdoor recreation in Maryland, the discussion moved quickly to the lack of public ORV trails and the fact that state riders are going elsewhere and taking their money with them.
Chris Alls, Swanton, said he and his family moved from Washington, D.C., to Garrett County and soon discovered that they had more access to ORV riding trails when they lived in the nation’s capital.
“I sit and watch snowmobiles ride across frozen Deep Creek Lake and can’t go on there with my (all-terrain vehicle) because it’s illegal,” Alls said. “ATV riders would come from all over if they knew they could ride on the lake. There’s no other lake in the region that freezes like that, enough to support riding.”
Randy Beeman, Georges Creek, was among the riders who said they often drive to southern West Virginia to use the Hatfield-McCoy Trail there.
“I’ve got a $10,000 machine in my garage and I’m going to ride it somewhere, and I’m going to spend money wherever that is,” Beeman said.
ORV riding on DNR lands became an issue a year ago when the agency closed trails on the Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County and the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County.
Among the other public land issues brought up at the meeting was the need for additional vehicle access to wildlife management areas for hunting.
“When I was a young hunter you could drive deeper into the WMAs, but now they are gated, some of them all year long,” said Jerry Zembower, president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association. “Our hunters are aging. They can’t walk way back into the mountains like they used to and they sure can’t pull a deer out that far.”
Information gathered at these meetings and also by telephone and online surveys will be compiled by GreenPlay LLC, a Lafayette, Colo., consulting firm dealing with parks, recreation and open space.
GreenPlay Senior Project Consultant Ann Miller said a similar meeting held recently in southern Maryland was also dominated by the ORV issue.
GreenPlay will provide an outdoor recreation draft management plan to DNR by November. The plan will be used to guide recreation on state lands for the next five years.
The plan must be completed for Maryland to be eligible for federal money via the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Wilson said Maryland has received about $1 million annually, most of which has been used for land acquisition.
Beeman said young people who learn early to ride in a responsible way will not tear up state lands.
“In Pennsylvania, I saw a 3-year-old on a dirt bike with training wheels and he was outfitted just like his dad. Teach them to tread lightly and they won’t become outlaws,” he said.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.