DNR plans to brief new Maryland administration on 'all department activities' including Wild Yough

Nov. 4—FRIENDSVILLE — There's no plan, adequate map or advisory board that's met in the last 26 years ready to address proposed trail development along the Wild Youghiogheny River.

There is $4.7 million, however, allocated for the idea.

As Gov. Larry Hogan's administration reaches the end of a term-limited eight-year run, and several candidates vie for local public official seats, the Wild Yough situation will be left to new leadership elected next week.

While it's unknown how those decision-makers will approach the situation, many folks on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line hope the process that leads to any plans will be vetted by the public.

"The fact that information has not been forthcoming from anybody involved, it's just been a sad situation," said John Bambacus, a 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 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 allocates $4 million, which was modified from an earlier $1 million listing, for the Youghiogheny River Trail Section 3 from Sang Run to the Kendell trail in Garrett County.

The money had made its way into the Department of Natural Resources capital budget with support from Del. Wendell Beitzel and Sen. George Edwards.

Soon after, DNR Media Relations Manager Gregg Bortz said the budget item "was not a DNR request, so we do not have further details on it."

At that time, Garrett County Administrator Kevin Null said commissioners hadn't requested the funding.

And, "No one has shared any information with the Town of Friendsville," Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle wrote.

In a June letter to DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the Garrett County Forestry Board asked for statutory and regulatory provisions of the Great Maryland Outdoors Act and the state's Scenic and Wild Rivers Act that pertains to protected portions of the Youghiogheny River 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 prior forestry board meeting, Mike Minnick, the group's chairman, said.

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 the public should have input into any plans for development.

Also in July, John Wilson, who spent more than 30 years working for DNR, said he was concerned about potential development in protected sections of the Yough.

Development of trails, including construction of bridges, are inappropriate for "Maryland's only wild river," and would be incompatible with the state's Scenic and Wild Rivers Act, Wilson said.

In August, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper Eric Harder, who works for the nonprofit Pennsylvania-based Mountain Watershed Association, said the organization opposes the proposed trail.

"We just think this is the wrong location for it," he said.

Last month, Harder posted a letter on ActionNetwork.org to protect the Wild Yough from the proposed development. Since then, it has gained more than 1,400 signatures.

On Thursday, in response to questions from the Cumberland Times-News, Bortz said via email that a draft request for proposal for a pre-engineering study "is still being developed internally."

A pre-engineering study does not mean a trail plan would be inevitable, he said.

"There is not a trail plan underway," Bortz said.

When asked if any DNR expenditures related to the proposed trails had been sent to the state's Board of the Public Works for review, he said, "No, there is nothing to put before BPW."

Bortz said DNR would convene the local advisory board to review activities and plans in the corridor.

"We do not have a record of any meetings since 1996," he said.

When asked the status of producing adequate mapping for the Wild Yough, Bortz said, "Our staff is still working on updating mapping."

In terms of information the state's new leadership will receive regarding the proposed Yough trails, "DNR staff will brief members of the transition team and the new administration on all department activities," he said.

What will happen to the money set aside for the trails?

"This budget allocation was passed as law and remains so unless repealed or revised by the General Assembly," Bortz 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.