DNR asked to review acts concerning wild Youghiogheny

·3 min read

Jun. 17—FRIENDSVILLE — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been asked to examine whether the recently enacted Great Maryland Outdoors Act conflicts with the state's Scenic and Wild Rivers Act that pertains to protected portions of the Youghiogheny River.

In a letter to DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the Garrett County Forestry Board asked for statutory and regulatory provisions of both acts to be reviewed "for legal and policy compatibility, and that the public be a full partner in any discussions."

The letter followed a "lengthy discussion" at a recent forestry board meeting, Mike Minnick, the group's chairman, said.

At issue is the impact of a proposed trail in the wild section of the Youghiogheny River.

Senate Bill 291, signed last month 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.

"While we understand DNR did not propose the $4.7 million item, as board members we are well aware of and concerned about a previous attempt to fund the trail in 2014 at the initiation of Senator Edwards, Delegate Beitzel, and Garrett Trails," Minnick stated. "We feel we have a responsibility to protect this natural and cultural resource."

Edwards recently said he supports the proposed trails.

Beitzel also said he backed the trail plan to "provide some economic opportunity and to provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation."

Minnick's letter states that a 2014 attempt to develop the trails was not supported by then DNR Secretary Joseph Gill for the same reasons the forestry board can't support the current proposal.

"As stewards of the Yough, we are charged with protecting and conserving public and private forest resources," he stated. "We believe, after reviewing the Scenic and Wild Rivers statute and regulations, that the recently enacted Great Outdoors Act and present Youghiogheny Scenic and Wild Rivers Act are incompatible, not in compliance, and in violation with one another."

Additionally, development and construction of a trail in Zone 1 of the wild river is prohibited for reasons including flooding, wetlands and endangered plant and animal species, Minnick said.

"Of particular interest to our board members was Section 8-409," he wrote of state code that defines "development" as "any structure, appurtenance, other addition, modification, or alteration that is constructed, placed, or made on or to land or water."

Garrett County Forestry Board "does support Garrett Trails proposals including the Friendsville Park to Selbysport, and Oakland to Herrington Manor State Park," Minnick stated. "We believe these have broad public support and are consistent with present statutes and regulations."

In response, an email from Haddaway-Riccio to Minnick on Friday includes that DNR welcomes "the opportunity to continue partnering with local residents, elected officials, and stakeholders to enhance outdoor recreation and economic development opportunities" in Western Maryland and across the state.

"At the same time, DNR remains committed to ensuring that any state project is conducted in an open and transparent manner, and consistent with our mission of preserving, protecting, and enhancing our natural resources," the email stated.

Earlier this week, the Cumberland Times-News requested an interview with Haddaway-Riccio, which, her spokesperson said hasn't been confirmed.

Others the Times-News asked to comment on the issue, but as of Friday afternoon did not get response from, include Gill, Garrett Trails Executive Director Josh Spiker, Garrett Trails President Mike Dreisbach, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper Eric Harder, Garrett County Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh — who is also on the Garrett Trails advisory committee, and Garrett County Commissioner Larry Tichnell — who is also a forestry board member and Garrett Trails board member.

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