November 5 – FRIENDSVILLE, Maryland – There is no plan, adequate map or advisory board that has met in the last 26 years to address the proposed development of trails along the Wild Youghiogheny River.
However, $4.7 million is allocated for the idea.
With Governor Larry Hogan’s administration nearing the end of an eight-year term and several candidates vying for local civil servant seats, Wild Yough’s situation will be left to the newly elected leadership next week.
While it’s unclear how those decision-makers will approach the situation, many people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line are hopeful that the process that leads to any plan will be approved by the public.
“The fact that no information has been provided by those involved, it’s just a sad situation,” said John Bambacus, former state senator and mayor of Frostburg.
People have been echoing that sentiment for nearly six months.
In May, Hogan signed Senate Bill 291, which included a $700,000 grant to the Garrett County Board of Commissioners “for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation , reconstruction, site improvement, and capital equipment of capital improvements at Sang Run State Park at Youghiogheny River Trail Section 2, Swallow Falls to Sang Run, including maintenance and repair projects. “
The bill also allocates $4 million, which was changed from an earlier list of $1 million, for Section 3 of the Youghiogheny River Trail from Sang Run to Kendell Trail in Garrett County.
The money had made its way into the Department of Natural Resources’ capital budget with the support of MP Wendell Beitzel and Senator George Edwards.
Shortly after, DNR media relations manager Gregg Bortz said the line item “was not a DNR request, so we don’t have any further details on that.”
At that time, Garrett County Administrator Kevin Null said the commissioners did not apply for the funding.
And, “No one has shared any information with the City of Friendsville,” Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle wrote.
In a June letter to DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the Garrett County Forestry Board requested that the laws and regulations of the Great Maryland Outdoors Act and the state’s Scenic and Wild Rivers Act that relate to protected portions of the Youghiogheny River be reviewed “for legal and policy compatibility, and that the public be a full partner in all discussions.”
The letter followed a “lengthy discussion” at a previous forest council meeting, said Mike Minnick, chairman of the group.
In July, Paul Durham – who in 1996 helped design “Maryland Scenic and Wild Rivers: The Youghiogheny”, said the wild river corridor “belongs to the people” and that the public should have a say in any plan of development.
Also in July, John Wilson, who has spent more than 30 years working for the MNR, said he was concerned about potential development in the protected sections of the Young.
Trail development, including building bridges, is inappropriate for “Maryland’s only wild river” and would be inconsistent with the state’s Scenic and Wild Rivers Act, Wilson said.
In August, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper Eric Harder, who works for the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Mountain Watershed Association, said the organization opposed the proposed trail.
“We just think it’s not the right place for it,” he said.
Last month, Harder posted a letter on ActionNetwork.org to protect the Wild Young from the proposed development. Since then, it has collected over 1,400 signatures.
In response to questions from the Cumberland Times-News on Thursday, Bortz said via email that a draft RFP for a pre-engineering study “is still being developed internally.”
A pre-engineering study doesn’t mean a trail plan would be inevitable, he said.
“There is no current track plan,” Bortz said.
When asked if any DNR expenditures related to the proposed trails had been sent to the State Board of Public Works for review, he replied, “No, there is nothing to put before BPW.”
Bortz said MNR will convene the local advisory council to review activities and plans in the corridor.
“We have no record of meetings since 1996,” he said.
When asked about the status of producing adequate cartography for the Wild Young, Bortz said, “Our staff is still working on updating the cartography.”
In terms of information the new state leadership will receive regarding proposed youth trails, “DNR staff will brief members of the transition team and new administration on all department activities,” a- he declared.
What will happen to the money set aside for the trails?
“This budget allocation has been passed into law and remains so unless repealed or revised by the General Assembly,” Bortz said.
Teresa McMinn is the digital editor of the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or [email protected]ews.com.