Cumberland Times-News

Local News

July 8, 2013

Some see Blue Bridge dam as an opportunity for tourism

Pair say structure will provide deep slack water for recreation

CUMBERLAND —  Two local residents have been promoting an idea to revitalize the North Branch of the Potomac River as an attraction for tourists and other recreation seekers that could be done without removing the dam beneath the Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge.

Gary Clites of Carpendale, W.Va., along with Frostburg resident Bernie Miltenberger support retaining the dam and using the 3-mile stretch of deeper slack water behind it for recreation.

“I think it’s a hidden gem,” said Clites, an author of two books on local history.

While most discussion on the river project has centered around removing the dam under the Blue Bridge to return the river to its natural state, Clites and Miltenberger feel that the dam itself provides an opportunity that history has already shown can create a successful attraction.

“A fact that is not debatable is that at the turn of the 20th century the water above the dam provided recreational boating and other activities for not hundreds, but thousands in the Cumberland area,” said Clites.

Clites and Miltenberger presented their ideas during the public input portion of the regular meeting of the Cumberland mayor and City Council held July 2 at City Hall.

Before the current industrial dam, built in 1959, there was the C&O Canal Dam, built in the 1840s at the confluence of Wills Creek and the Potomac.

According to Clites, before it was finally removed in 1955 as part of flood control efforts, the C&O Canal Dam created slack water that was widely used in the area for recreation.

Deep slack water is required to support boating, especially during periods of drought.

Widespread river activities flourished in the period of time between the C&O Canal Dam’s creation and the introduction of pollutants during the industrial expansion that occurred in the area following World War I.

Clites said that the Potomac was even used as a source of drinking water for the city prior to the industrial pollution. Beginning in 1913, the city of Cumberland had a dam constructed on Evitts Creek, across the state line in Pennsylvania, to create Lake Gordon, its current source of water.

The Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., which used the Potomac River waters, opened in Cumberland in April 1921. Other mining and industrial business entities, including the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co., also accessed the river.

Any future usage of the river waters hinges on the results of water quality and sediment sample testing that must be completed to determine the amount of toxins present. American Rivers, an organization in Washington, D.C., that assists in river cleanups, hopes to raise the funding needed to allow testing to begin in the fall.

“What you have (the stretch behind the dam) is basically like a flat lake that the drop on it is very little,” said Miltenberger.

Miltenberger said he has postcards from 100 years ago depicting activities on the river. Clites also has documentation and photos from what he calls the “glory days” of the waterway.

Clites said the river attracted many recreation-related businesses.

“The Shawnee Canoe Club operated where Riverside Park is located. I have pictures of it. They had group floats and pinics and that sort of thing,” said Clites.

Another river business was the Potomac Club, in Ridgeley, that later was named the Cumberland Boating and Tennis Club. The club operated from 1905 to 1919, according to Clites.

Buck Dryer was a famous waterman of the day, according to Clites. Dryer operated a commercial boating business that included two steam-powered paddle boats. Outings took people from Cumberland to a location known as Dryer’s Beach about 3 miles up the North Branch.

“The biggest thing needed now is access. The railroad owns the property on both sides,” said Clites.

Both Clites and Miltenberger agree that testing of the water and sediments is the first step.

“Not only could you have the steam locomotive, but you could possibly have a steam riverboat with a big paddle wheel. You could have tours with kids and families,” said Miltenberger.

Miltenberger said that the dam, with its heavy water flow nine or 10 months of the year, should be examined as a potential source of generating electricity.

“We need to have open presentation so ideas can flow. That’s important,” said Miltenberger.

“Canoeists, if they want, could develop a little lock system or even a gradual slide where they could traverse the dam. If you worry about fish, you could build a fish ladder,” said Miltenberger.

Both men stressed the importance of keeping debris behind the dam removed to prevent damage to the dam and bridge.

Greg Larry can be contacted at

Text Only
Local News
  • Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds

    After you drive Alexander and Furnace streets then navigate a couple of switchbacks on Cemetery Road, you’d figure there would be no more uphill.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Proposed county budget holds most agencies flat

    After taking into account an income tax shortfall, Allegany County Finance Director Jason Bennett said he’ll propose a budget that holds most outside agencies to flat funding and funds the Board of Education at what county officials say are maintenence of effort levels for 2015.

    April 17, 2014

  • RYAN WOLF Wolf named 2014-15 Garrett Teacher of the Year

    Southern Garrett High School teacher Ryan Wolf has been named the 2014-15 Garrett County Teacher of the Year.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock

    While giving a civics lesson at Frostburg State University on Thursday, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, congressman from Maryland’s sixth district, told students that the polarization in Congress is due primarily to redistricting and a poorly designed Congressional schedule.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fourmile Ridge wind project approved, moves forward

    The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the Fourmile Ridge wind project in eastern Garrett County and site preparation started April 7, according to Frank Maisano, a wind industry spokesman. The current notice listed on the FAA website for the project is for a small change in turbine location.

    April 17, 2014

  • Oakland back to normal after toppled tanker closes business district

    The town of Oakland returned to normal activities Thursday, one day after a tanker full of liquid propane overturned in the heart of the business district.
    Shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday the toppled tanker was removed and its 10,000-gallon load transferred to another tanker.

    April 17, 2014

  • Students back Southern Middle School renovation

    Students from both Southern and Northern middle schools presented a list of reasons why Southern Middle needs to be renovated during the Garrett County Commission meeting Tuesday.

    April 17, 2014

  • Trial run Trial run

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 72nd anniversary of Doolittle Raid on Tokyo 72nd anniversary of Doolittle Raid on Tokyo

    Friday, April 18, has another special meaning for me besides Good Friday.
    April 18, 1942, proved to be a pivotal day for American morale, following the deadly air attack and destruction conceived and executed by Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lara Courrier seeks re-appointment to Mineral school board

    I, Lara Courrier, am seeking re-election to the Mineral County Board of Education to continue the work I’ve done the last four years. Having served as a school counselor at the Burlington Center School and the Chick Buckbee Juvenile Center for nearly six years, as well as approximately 20 years total working with children, I have insight into the needs of kids and the importance of the actions of the school board. Having three sons and several nieces and nephews in Mineral County schools, I have an added incentive to continue to work hard to ensure the efficient running of our school system. 

    April 17, 2014