Garrett commissioners ask to control money aimed at Yough

Feb. 24—FRIENDSVILLE — In a new move, which many folks hope will stop a proposal to develop land along Maryland's only wild river, Garrett County commissioners are asking to control money that started the idea.

During the 2022 legislative session, $4.7 million was set aside by the Maryland General Assembly in the Department of Natural Resources critical maintenance program for trails along the state protected Wild Youghiogheny River in Garrett County.

The funding 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 equipping of capital improvements at Sang Run State Park at Youghiogheny River Trail Section 2 from Swallow Falls to Sang Run, including maintenance and repair projects."

It also contained $4 million for the Youghiogheny River Trail Section 3 from Sang Run to the Kendall trail in Garrett County.

In a letter to DNR Secretary Josh Kurtz on Thursday, the Board of Garrett County Commissioners asked the state to abandon the trail proposal, and give them control of the money for other trail projects.

"While the Board of County Commissioners has supported the concept of the Youghiogheny River Trail, this proposed trail, although not even designed yet, has become controversial and created some division in the community," the letter stated.

"Given the current regulatory environment we have doubts that a trail in the proposed location will ever be constructed," the commissioners wrote.

They said based on feedback from stakeholders, "we respectfully request that (DNR) consider withdrawing any further work or study" on the proposed Youghiogheny River Trail.

"To continue our local overall efforts, we request that the $4.7 million dollars allocated for this project be transferred to Garrett County Government for the construction and maintenance of other trails and connectors within Garrett County — a worthy purpose of the original allocation," the commissioners said.

"Should this require legislation to modify the original funding bill we would encourage the Western Maryland Delegation to introduce and support such a request," they said.

John Bambacus, a former state senator and mayor of Frostburg, has been a longtime advocate of protections for the Wild Yough.

"After nearly a year of community discussion, there is now a recognition throughout Garrett County that the protection and preservation since 1976 of Maryland's only Wild and Scenic River is something that people truly care about," he said via email Friday.

Garrett commissioners, Friendsville's mayor and town council, and the local legislative delegation have provided leadership, transparency and listened carefully to their constituents, he said.

They considered various points of view, and decided there are other opportunities for trail development outside of the Wild Youghiogheny corridor, Bambacus said.

They also made it clear to Gov. Wes Moore and Kurtz that they would support any necessary legislative action that would allow for the $4.7 million to be redirected to alternative, worthy projects after public discussion takes place, he said.

"They appreciate that governance in a democracy is a two-way transaction between citizens and those whom they elect to represent them," Bambacus said.

Moore's office did not immediately respond to a Cumberland Times-News request for comments Friday.

At that time, the newspaper also asked for comments from Kurtz.

In response, DNR Media Relations Manager Gregg Bortz via email said a public meeting in Garrett County to discuss the funding will soon be announced.

"As we stated previously, DNR is evaluating potential opportunities to use the $4.7 million in funding provided by the legislature last year in Garrett County," he said. "Before developing any plan, DNR will seek the input and support of Maryland's citizens and local officials."

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371.