DNR Secretary Kurtz: Mapping of Yough area is priority

This article first appeared on CUMBERLAND TIMES-NEWS

Mar. 15—MCHENRY — Paper maps from 1986 will be replaced by Geographic Information System tools before any trail plans are made for the Youghiogheny River area, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz said Monday.

Kurtz and Sen. Mike McKay were at the Deep Creek Lake Discovery Center in Garrett County for a Cumberland Times-News interview about the potential for trail development in the Wild Yough.

That’s been a controversial issue since $4 million marked for trail construction showed up unrequested by DNR in its critical maintenance program last year.

The money was associated with a 2014 request from former Del. Wendell Beitzel and former Sen. George Edwards for the organization Garrett Trails to create a segment of the Eastern Continental Divide Loop through the Yough’s scenic corridor, which was rejected at the time in a letter from then DNR Secretary Joseph Gill.

“We’re going to be consistent with that 2014 letter,” Kurtz said of Gill’s statement, which included that trail development could not be approved for numerous reasons.

“We are not evaluating any kind of (trail) proposals,” Kurtz said.

He highlighted the need to update DNR’s 37-year-old maps that pertain to the scenic corridor boundary of the river’s wild section.

GIS analysis will take priority and provide new data, which DNR will use to “start from the beginning,” Kurtz said.

The state-of-the-art tools will allow for precision “down to counting trees,” he said.

The new data will be combined with information that pertains to issues including threatened species, habitat, infrastructure, and protections for the river, he said.

“We want to take a real holistic look at this,” Kurtz said and added that preliminary decisions will be based on mapping data. “We recognize the importance of this whole area.”

Money and transparency

On Tuesday via email, Carter Elliott, Gov. Wes Moore’s press secretary, said the fate of the $4 million will be determined by lawmakers.

“The governor supports making investments in Garrett County parks, but the legislature makes the final decision on this allocation,” he said.

McKay plans to fight for the money to be used in Garrett County, for which it was initially designated.

Messages left Friday for Del. Jason Buckel — who represents Allegany County and is House minority leader, and Del. Jim Hinebaugh — who represents Allegany and Garrett counties, were not returned as of Tuesday afternoon.

Kurtz talked of additional possible revenue sources that could benefit the area including money from the Great Maryland Outdoors Act.

The Friendsville to Oakland watershed will also be considered for trail development, he said.

In an email Monday, Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle asked Kurtz to review a plan to make Friendsville a hiking and biking community.

Kurtz said DNR will work “in partnership” with all stakeholders before decisions are made.

McKay said he felt “very confident” in DNR’s leadership.

The public will be given ample notice of scheduled meetings that pertain to any trail development, he said.

“We’re moving forward,” McKay said.