Public hopes for input at Yough hike and bike trail meeting Monday

·3 min read

Aug. 4—FRIENDSVILLE — A town hall meeting months after $4.7 million was budgeted for proposed trails along protected areas of the Youghiogheny River is kind of like a gadget play, John Bambacus said.

"Hide the football until you're in the end zone and then spike it," he said.

Bambacus, a Frostburg resident, and former state senator and mayor of Frostburg, referred to a meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday for a proposed Youghiogheny River hike and bike trail.

Del. Wendell Beitzel, who organized the event, via recent press release said it will be held at Garrett College in room 111 of the Garrett Information Enterprise Center and include "a presentation about the proposed trail and funding procurement."

The introduction is necessary because no plan accompanied millions of dollars for the proposed trails in wild designated areas of the Youghiogheny.

Secured funds

Garrett Trails, which supports a proposed 150-mile loop trail through Garrett County, last month stated that in the 2022 legislative session, Beitzel and Sen. George Edwards secured funds for DNR to explore "sustainable access to public land along the Youghiogheny River from Sang Run State Park to Friendsville using portions of the existing C&O rail corridor."

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, into the Department of Natural Resources budget for the Youghiogheny River Trail Section 3 from Sang Run to the Kendall trail in Garrett County.

According to DNR's website, "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."

Public comment?

While multiple landowners in the Youghiogheny River area hope to speak at Monday's meeting, it's unclear if they'll be allowed.

Beitzel did not respond to a Cumberland Times-News question about whether public comment will be permitted at the event.

Communication about the proposed trails has lacked since the money appeared in DNR's budget.

"Citizens need to know what their government is doing," Bambacus said via email. "Those in public office have an obligation to be forthright in disclosing information to citizens in a timely manner that is needed to make informed decisions and hold elected officials accountable."

The burden should not rest with citizens to get critical capital budget information three months after the fact, he said.

"Transparency leads to a high-level of trust, and strengthens our democracy by letting the public examine the decision-making process," Bambacus said.

DNR officials will not be at the meeting, according to the department's media relations manager Gregg Bortz, who responded "on behalf of the governor's office and our acting state forester" to Cumberland Times-News inquiries about whether Maryland officials plan to attend Monday's talk, and their opinions of the funding and proposed trails.

"DNR has not solicited and is not reviewing or considering any plans or proposals for a trail," he said via email. "If there were to be a plan, it would be developed by DNR through our process that includes significant opportunity for public input and comment.'

Since that process has not started, DNR staff "are not engaging in public meetings," 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.