f you're looking forward to summer, but not the season's 90-degree muggy days, the mountains of Western Maryland are just a cool breeze away.
A half-hour west of Cumberland on Interstate 68, as you crest Big Savage Mountain, the temperature usually drops 10 to 15 degrees, summer mugginess gives way to crisp, cool air, and stretching out before you are beautiful vistas of rolling hills and wide alpine valleys.
Welcome to Garrett County, a vacation mecca for folks who hate heat and humidity and love mountain views and unspoiled forests.
"I just like the environment," says Burt Meyer of Timonium, who has vacationed with his family at Deep Creek Lake, the vacation hub of Maryland's westernmost county, for "15 or 20 years."
"I also like the laid-back atmosphere. You're not always under pressure to entertain or be entertained," adds Mr. Meyer, owner of a vacation home overlooking the lake. "I have a sailboat, canoe and fishing boat. We feel it's a great year-round ski and recreation area."
The county's topography is responsible for the pleasant summer climate. Atop the Appalachian Plateau, Garrett County's average elevation is 2,300 feet above sea level. Leave your bug repellent at home: The altitude foils ticks and mosquitoes.
The county's main attraction, Deep Creek Lake, is the largest freshwater lake in Maryland. The artificial lake, built in 1925 by the Youghiogheny (YOCK-a-gainey) Electric Co., is 12 miles long, covers 3,900 acres and features 65 miles of shoreline.
The lake is still used by its current owner, Pennsylvania Electric -- Co., to drive electric generators. More important to vacationers, it is the focus of a variety of year-round outdoor recreations.
Popular summer activities at the lake include fishing, motorboating, sailing, water skiing and swimming. Nearby state parks and forests offer hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and camping.
There are also several annual events that draw vacationers. The sixth annual McHenry Highland Festival June 5 at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry offers a bit of Scotland, for example. Bagpipe bands, Scottish country and highland dancers, sheep dog demonstrations, athletic and piping competitions, and other family activities will be featured.
"Everyone who comes enjoys the festival," says Diane Wolfe, the event's chairwoman. "And you don't have to be Scottish. But if you are of Scottish descent, you can get genealogical information for researching your ancestry at the festival."
After the festivities, visitors can attend a "ceilidh" (KAY-lee). The Celtic shindig, featuring live entertainment, will be held at 8 p.m. at the McHenry House at Wisp Four Season Resort, near Deep Creek Lake.
For a taste of traditional Western Maryland mountain culture, the Western Maryland Loggers and Forestry Field Day re-creates Garrett County's early lumberjack days June 11 and 12 with old-fashioned horse-logging demonstrations, displays of logging equipment, birds of prey demonstrations and fisheries exhibits.
"We've gone to a lot of effort to include exhibits that will interest the general public, including music, food, a cross-cut saw competition and a 5K race," says John Forman, president of the Maryland Forest Association, the sponsor of the two-day event at the Garrett County Fairgrounds. "Plus, $5 gets the whole family in. . . . It's a nice outing for the family."
American-Indian culture is the focus of the 11th annual American Indian Inter-Tribal Cultural Organization Pow Wow July 3 and 4. Drawing nearly 6,000 visitors in past years, the traditional Indian gathering features tribal dances and singing, crafts, Indian food and demonstrations by Indian artisans.
"The public is welcome," says Kathy Frick, president of the Washington-based organization that sponsors the powwow. "Spectators will see Indians dressed in regalia and hear singing from different tribes. For Indian people, it's a way of celebrating their culture. Plus, the powwow is a heck of a good time."
The event will be held at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry, near the lake. After the powwow, visitors can head for McHenry Cove at the lake for a traditional fireworks display.
The emphasis changes from American-Indian to Early American at the Spruce Forest Artisan Village Summerfest and Quilt Show July 8 to 10. The three-day crafts fair showcases the talents of 70 artisans, musicians and story-tellers in a rustic setting near Penn Alps, a non-profit handicrafts organization outside Grantsville. The town is near I-68, about 15 miles from Deep Creek Lake.
Traditional mountain crafts in fiber, glass, clay, as well as artwork, mountain and hammer dulcimers, quilts, rockers and antiques, will be sold at the fair. Entertainment includes a concert by African-American singers, two a capella groups and a folklorist telling stories.
"All the crafts people are selected by a jury," says Esther Yoder, ++ general manager of Spruce Village Artisan Village. "We try to stick to Early American crafts, but some contemporary stuff slips in."
Wisp Four Season Resort, best known for downhill skiing, switches gears during the summer to one of the nation's fastest growing sports, mountain biking.
The Marsh Mountain Classic mountain bike stage race July 10-11 will draw competitors from throughout the mid-Atlantic region to the slopes of the ski resort overlooking Deep Creek Lake. Spectators can ride the chair lifts up the mountain to view the race from higher vantage points.
"You can even take a mountain bike up on the lift with you and ride around the mountain while the race is going on," says Mark Ruhe, a spokesman for the resort.
Visitors can rent mountain bikes from the resort or try the Wisp's other activities, including golf, water skiing, in-line skating, horseback riding, fishing and sailing.
Whether a visit lasts a weekend, a week or longer, vacationers can choose from a variety of accommodations close to Deep Creek Lake.
Rates for nearby hotels and motels range from $30 to $80 a night (double occupancy). Condominiums can be rented for $60 to $100 per night. Daily rates at bed and breakfasts near the lake range from $30 to $100.
Housing rentals are another option, and range from a cottage in the woods to a deluxe vacation home overlooking the lake. Weekly rentals start around $300 for a rustic cabin and increase to $1,000 for deluxe accommodations that sleep eight or more. Many vacation homes are also available for weekend-only rentals.
"We suggest that people make reservations first, especially for holiday and prime summer weekends," says Ms. Wolfe, who also serves as executive director of the Deep Creek Lake-Garrett County Promotion Council. "Most folks who call a week or two before coming usually get the kind of accommodations they're looking for."
For those interested in outdoor accommodations, there are plenty of campgrounds, from primitive facilities in state forests to privately run parks for trailers and recreations vehicles.
Deep Creek Lake, Herrington Manor, New Germany and Swallow Falls state parks offer campsites featuring picnic tables and grills, and centrally located wash houses with flush toilets and hot showers. Double G Ranch and Glen Acres Campground are private facilities near the lake with hookups for RVs.
Call the promotion council at (301) 334-1948 for information on rental availability.
Joe Surkiewicz is the author of "The Mountain Biker's Guide to Central Appalachia."
AH IF YOU GO . . .
Thanks to Interstate 68, Garrett County and Deep Creek Lake are now closer than ever. For most people living in the Baltimore area, the drive is less than four hours.
From the Beltway, take I-70 west to Hancock; take a left on I-68 (formerly U.S. 48). After passing Frostburg and cresting Big Savage Mountain and entering Garrett County, take U.S. 219 south to Deep Creek Lake, about 10 miles.
* The McHenry Highland Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 5 at the Garrett County Fairgrounds on Route 219 in McHenry, near the northern end of Deep Creek Lake. Admission is $5 for ages 12 and above; children are free. Seating at the ceilidh (or Celtic party) after the festival is limited. Tickets for the post-festival party can be bought in advance and at the festival; admission is $3. Call (301) 334-1948.
* The Forestry Field Day is a two-day event beginning June 11 at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. June 11, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 12. A $5 fee admits the dTC family. Call (301) 334-9451.
* The American Indian Inter-Tribal Cultural Organization Pow Wow begins at 10 a.m. July 3 and runs until 10 p.m. at the Garrett County Fairgrounds in McHenry. On July 4, the powwow starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, free for children under 12. Call (301) 963-7284.
* The Spruce Forest Artisan Village Summerfest and Quilt Show runs July 8-10 near Penn Alps, one mile east of Grantsville on Route 40. A $4 admission covers the crafts and quilt show; admission is $3 for one show. Call (301) 895-3332.
* Wisp Four Season Resort features an 18-hole golf course, mountain biking on marked trails, in-line skating and activities on the lake. The Marsh Mountain Classic mountain bike stage race, held on Wisp's ski slopes, is July 10-11. Call (301) 387-4911.
* For a free, 100-page booklet on Garrett County recreation, lodging, restaurants, shopping, parks, historical sites and a calendar of events, call the Deep Creek Lake-Garrett County Promotion Council at (301) 334-1948.
-- J. S.