DNR prepares for Yough trails 'pre-engineering study'

Oct. 5—FRIENDSVILLE, Md. — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is preparing to create a request for proposal for the feasibility of development along what the organization defines as a "state protected corridor."

According to dnr.maryland.gov, "in 1976 a 21-mile long segment of the Youghiogheny was designated as Maryland's first Wild River."

A state protected corridor along the river runs from Miller's Run just north of Oakland to the town of Friendsville.

"This corridor is managed by the Maryland Park Service to preserve the wild and natural scenic, geologic, historic, ecologic, recreational, fish, wildlife, and cultural resources," according to the website.

Despite a 2014 letter from Joseph Gill, the DNR secretary at the time, to Del. Wendell Beitzel and Sen. George Edwards that stated development along the Wild Yough could not happen "for numerous reasons," the elected officials earlier this year supported funding for trail development along the protected portion of the river.

Maryland Senate Bill 291, signed in May by Gov. Larry Hogan, 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."

The bill also allocated $4 million, which was modified from an earlier $1 million listing, for the Youghiogheny River Trail Section 3 from Sang Run to the Kendall trail in Garrett County.

But the money was reserved without a plan.

Now, "DNR staff are gathering information needed to develop a draft RFP for a pre-engineering study," the department's media relations manager Gregg Bortz said via email.

Letters

Last week, a meeting was hosted by Youghiogheny Riverkeeper Eric Harder, who works for the nonprofit Pennsylvania-based Mountain Watershed Association, which opposes the proposed trails.

Following the gathering, Harder posted a letter campaign on Action Network, which describes the funding measure as part of the state's capital budget to support construction of a high development trail in the Youghiogheny Wild River Scenic Corridor.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the letter had more than 1,300 signatures.

DNR responded to the signees with a letter, signed by DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, that stated the $4.7 million "was not part of the (DNR) capital budget request" nor the governor's FY23 budget submission.

"Importantly, DNR did not receive any proposals associated with this budget request and is not reviewing or considering any plans or proposals that may have been offered in the past, including one that was rejected by DNR in 2014," it stated.

DNR is not "opposed to exploring and considering expansion of trails in the region, however, trail development of this scope and size requires diligent and thoughtful planning processes," the letter stated.

Questions

The Cumberland Times-News recently emailed questions to DNR, including "what has DNR done (regarding) the proposed Wild Corridor trails" since the $4.7 million was allocated?

The newspaper also asked for the status of a public information request filed by Garrett County resident Crede Calhoun, who died recently, for an engineering study from DNR.

"DNR has not produced any draft plans for a trail," Bortz responded. "Mr. Calhoun's inquiry was closed upon his passing. That said, PIAs cover only documents already in existence, therefore no engineering report would be available."

John Bambacus, a former state senator and mayor of Frostburg, said DNR's actions concerning the proposed trail have been unclear.

"It appears that mixed-messages and policy obfuscation are once again coming from the Secretary of Natural Resources," he said via email Tuesday.

"Why is a pre-engineering study even being conducted for a primitive trail in the Wild river corridor that prohibits by statute, regulations, and the 1996 Youghiogheny River Management Plan development of any kind whatsoever?" he said.

"Previous secretaries of DNR for the last 50 years have held this ecological treasure to be protected, and development prohibited, as Maryland's only Wild and Scenic River," Bambacus said.

"One has to wonder why Secretary Haddaway-Riccio and Governor Hogan want to tarnish their environmental stewardship by putting a gravel road through Maryland's last wilderness frontier," he said.

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.