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When snow comes down, fun and profits go up in Western Md.


OAKLAND -- Carole Day awakes in a winter wonderland.

Fresh snow has fallen overnight, dusting trees and carpeting the ice-crusted ground that made cross-country skiing so treacherous the day before at Herrington Manor State Park in Garrett County.

Mrs. Day, a bookkeeper from Rockville, intends to get one more run on the groomed trails that crisscross the 300-acre park northwest of Oakland before she and her husband head home.

She downs a hearty breakfast, slips on a blue parka, grabs a pair of rented skis and emerges from a rustic cabin, ready to kick and glide through "hundreds and hundreds of pine trees" one last time.

"You get a real sense of winter here," Mrs. Day says. "You think you're going to get up Monday morning and go home, but you end up leaving later than you planned. It's just so beautiful here."

Mrs. Day and her husband, Ed, a Rockville policeman, are among the hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts who have discovered cross-country skiing -- not to mention cozy cabins -- in Western Maryland's state parks.

The weekend's springlike weather lured hundreds of skiers to snow-covered Herrington Manor and New Germany state parks.

"It was pretty incredible," said Roger Riley, Herrington Manor's park manager. "It was probably our busiest weekend ever. People were lined up for skis. As soon as a pair of skis came in, they went right back out."

Mr. Riley estimated that 300 to 400 skiers took to the park's trails both Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures were in the 60s, but trail conditions were generally good. "It was kind of like being in California and you see people skiing in their bathing suits and swimming at the bottom of the slope," Mr. Riley said.

"It's one of the biggest wintertime activities we have," said Mike Berry, a Herrington Manor park ranger. "People come here to cross-country ski because you don't have to stand in line, it's not as expensive as downhill skiing, and it brings you close to nature."

Cross-country skiing is among the popular sports that draw tens of thousands of people from Baltimore, Washington, New Jersey and, increasingly, some Southern states, to Garrett County each winter.

Other popular sports are downhill skiing at the privately operated Wisp resort near Deep Creek Lake, sledding, ice fishing and snowmobiling.

Saturday was a record-breaking day for Wisp.

"It was great. My guess is we had 6,000 skiers here. It was an all-time record for us," said Jerry Geisler, operations manager at Wisp. "The skiing was great, and the warm sunshine just made it real enjoyable to be outside."

Ice storms in January and this month put a crimp into snowmobiling at Herrington Manor and at Savage River State Forest, where trails have been closed indefinitely because of innumerable trees and limbs that have fallen across more than 25 miles of trails. New Germany has no off-road vehicle trails.

Hiking and cross-country ski trails remain open in all parks.

"We're as much a winter playground as we are a summer playground," said Diane Wolfe, executive director of the Deep Creek Lake-Garrett County Promotion Council. "We almost always have snow."

How much impact the throngs of skiers and outdoor enthusiasts have on the local economy is hard to determine.

Nobody, it seems, keeps tab on the numbers checking into hotels and motels, rental homes and the 31 rustic cabins at the state parks.

But the fact that the state park cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and hotel rooms are booked most weekends indicate brisk business this winter.

Mr. Geisler estimates that 170,000 people will have bought lift tickets before the resort's four months of operation this ski season are over.

Consistent snowfall and ideal skiing conditions since Christmas have Wisp officials looking at their best season ever.

"We're slightly ahead of where we were last year, and that was the best season we ever had," Mr. Geisler said. "We're thrilled."

Snow is the key to the flurry of winter activity. The past two winters have been prolific. Nearly 150 inches of snow fell last year and about 100 inches this year.

"It's a winter wonderland, especially when we get what have become commonplace snowfalls of 2 to 3 feet the past two years," said Doug McClive, owner of McClive's Restaurant on Deep Creek Lake.

New Germany and Herrington Manor state parks are popular with cross-country skiers, but the former attracts more people, partly because it's an hour closer to Baltimore and Washington.

Herrington Manor has about 5 miles of trails, and New Germany -- in eastern Garrett County -- has about 12 miles. Skiers can rent equipment for $12 for a day at Herrington Manor.

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