Wills Mountain State Park expands without public access

Teresa McMinn, Cumberland Times-News, Md.
·4 min read

Apr. 27—CUMBERLAND — Fade-in: The shadow of a figure dressed in tactical gear is suspended from a helicopter that hovers above a cliff.

While that sounds like the beginning of a screenplay for a cheesy action flick, it remains the only practical way to access Wills Mountain State Park.

The parcel is surrounded by private land, and a nearly vertical hillside that overlooks Cumberland.

The park has gained acreage over the past few years, but still doesn't offer public access.

"Wills Mountain State Park is officially a state park, consisting of about 470 acres," Maryland Department of Natural Resources Media Relations Manager Gregg Bortz said via email.

The site is missing from a list of 23 other Western Maryland parks on DNR's website, however.

"While the park is open to the public, there are currently no means to legally gain access to the property via the sole access road," he said. "Also, where the public can make access, there is no public parking within the residential neighborhood, and is a strenuous hike up very rocky and steep terrain, with no established trail."

Timeline

The park, mountain and creek below are named for Indian Will, a Shawnee who lived nearby in the 18th Century.

During the mid-1990s, there were unsuccessful efforts to build a Native American gambling casino at the site.

The park was created when the state purchased 350 acres from Carl G. Valentine for $160,000 in 1998 and another 51 acres were donated by George and Joan Henderson.

About that time, the city signed a 20-year lease with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at a cost of $1 a year to manage the land for preservation and passive recreational use.

Records show that 23 golden eagles passed over the park during an eight-hour period in 2013.

The park abuts the former Artmor Plastics plant that was vandalized and later intentionally set on fire in November 2015.

In 2017, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved payment of $37,800 to Bacas Sisters LLC for 5 acres the park borders on three sides.

That year, the board agreed to a $60,000 payment to Ronald Brian Wildman for 8 acres bordered on two sides by the park.

Program Open Space funds paid for the lands.

"However our review did not find it suitable for an access point due to potential impacts on the nearby residential area and other issues," Bortz said. "The department continues to pursue opportunities to create access in a safe and ecologically sound manner."

Last year, Allegany County Commissioners Jake Shade and Dave Caporale voted to approve the transfer of more than 100 acres of property from Allegany Holding Company/Aggregate Management to the state of Maryland for Wills Mountain State Park.

Creade Brodie Jr. was against the move.

"I've always voted no," he recently said of decisions regarding the state owning land, and added that county commissioners must approve such transactions where more than 100 acres are involved.

Aggregate Management recently refused to comment on the situation.

The company's website states "Aggregate Management, Inc. is the corporate headquarters for a collection of aggregate, asphalt, concrete and block companies at various locations in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia" and was originally founded as Laurel Sand & Gravel, Inc. in 1982.

Bortz confirmed that DNR received a letter from the county commissioners about the land transfer.

"We are in discussion about it," he said.

Enclosed

Pittsburgh resident Scott Chapman enjoys visiting Cumberland for a variety of reasons and would like to see Wills Mountain State Park.

"It's a very beautiful area in terms of photography, trains and also your rails to trails," he said.

"I've also got roots in the area," Chapman said. "My dad is from Keyser and my mom is from Green Spring on the West Virginia side."

The enclosed park would offer a spectacular scenic view, he said.

"I would just love to get an opportunity to get up there and get some great photographs of The Narrows and the area," he said. "You've got the trains that run through there as well."

Bortz said DNR considers the park a high priority and will pursue additional land acquisitions with willing sellers of adjacent property to gain public access and establish the park as a recreational resource.

"It is a valued part of DNR's Allegany County properties, which currently provide more than 50,000 acres of accessible public land through state park and forest land, plus fishing and wildlife management areas," he said.