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Maryland’s only wild river should stay wild | READER COMMENTARY

Former Sen. John Bambacus was right when he recently said that “$4.7 million for Yough trails puts the cart before the horse.” Like the controversy surrounding private commercial development of Rocky Gap State Park, local officials and private interests again feel that they can plan and implement their own wishes for the use and development of Maryland’s public lands. (“Dan Rodricks: Leave the Yock, Maryland’s officially ‘wild’ river, alone,” May 24)

The Youghiogheny is Maryland’s only “wild river” and the crown jewel in that system. The extensive state lands in the wild section of the river are owned by the people of Maryland and entrusted to the Department of Natural Resources for their management. It is axiomatic that when one wants to propose a new use or development in the river corridor you should first ask its owners. Officials at DNR said that they were unaware of the last minute plan and funding for the project.

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A formal plan for the use and management of these lands is in place and was approved by Garrett County and the Scenic and Wild Rivers Review Board. It was developed after a lengthy, transparent and sometimes contentious public process. Del. Wendell Beitzel was quoted in the Cumberland Times-News as saying that he was absolutely aware that the proposed development was in protected sections of the river.

The trail being proposed is intended to be a hiker-biker trail like the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, following an abandoned temporary logging railroad bed along the river. Bridges would be engineered and built and a wide hard packed trail installed.

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Had the river plan been respected before setting this idea in motion the proponents would have learned that it is entirely inconsistent with what it calls for. Regarding trails, the plan says that they should be “limited to a primitive hiking trail.” Bridges and packed trail surfaces would be extensive and as such “should be developed outside of the scenic corridor.” The trail would remove more than 20 acres of forest land along the wild river. The plan states that forested lands should be “preserved in their natural state.”

The spirit of the Wild River designation is exactly as its name implies: to remain wild. This is the will of the people of Maryland, and the Youghiogheny is and should remain so designated and managed. This designation is priceless.

— Paul Durham, Brunswick

The writer is the former administrator of the Youghiogheny Scenic and Wild River for the Maryland Park Service.

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