Public meetings to weigh future of Rocky Gap State Park

Public comment possible for those attending in person and online
Meetings set for Nov. 12, Dec. 2

By Kevin Spradlin
AlleganyPlayground.com

Two public meetings in Frostburg over the next three weeks will allow Allegany County residents and other stakeholders chances to weigh in on a state-sanctioned task force’s recommendation that parts of Rocky Gap State Park near Flintstone be developed.

This screenshot from the task force website shows how the public can participate in the meetings, both in person and online. Click on the image for a larger version.

Members of the Task Force on the Economic Future of Western Maryland, which includes Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties, recently approved sending 15 recommendations to the Maryland Department of Commerce, the state agency under which the task force falls, for further consideration.

 

While the set of recommendations is chock full of ideas to jumpstart the economy, the part that gathers the mostinterest is the suggestionthat “land within Rocky Gap State Park … could be developed by private businesses for development that enhances the park’s offerings.”

A public-private partnership “would provide the state with a revenue stream and ensure that services are provided to visitors.”

The document makes clear that “the task force understands that proposed changes by the private operator would involve oversight and approval from the Department of Natural Resources and other key stakeholders.”

The task force is co-chaired by outgoing state Senator George Edwards and Delegate Jason Buckel. Edwards has announced he will not run for re-election in 2022. Allegany County Commissioner Jake Shade, who is running for Edwards’ Senate seat and is a task force member, told Allegany Playground he believes the conversation has been “blown out of proportion” by advocates, including the Friends of Rocky Gap State Park all-volunteer force.

This map, created by Allegany County government officials more than three years ago, shows the area that was of interest to Great Wolf Lodge.

Shade said the idea came about a few years ago, when Great Wolf Lodge was seeking to build in Maryland. He said Great Wolf Lodge, renowned for its indoor water parks, wanted 35 acres “right next to the casino” at Rocky Gap State Park. Shade said lodge officials believed a Great Wolf Lodge would complement the existing hotel, golf course and casino, and they also liked its convenient interstate access.

The 35 acres, which includes the day use area of Rocky Gap State Park, “seemed to fit a lot of their boxes.” But lodge officials, Shade said, were worried about cutting through the bureaucratic red tape required to build on public land.

Great Wolf Lodge decided to build on Perryville, Cecil County. According to The (Baltimore) Sun, construction began in July and the 20th Great Wolf Lodge in North America — and largest — is expected to open in 2023. The $250 million project, which includes a 700-suite hotel and a 126,000-square-foot water park, “is expected to generate more than 2,000 construction jobs … and employ more than 850 people” once it opens.

Shade emphasized that at this time, there is no entity “interested in putting anything there right now.” However, the task force’s recommendations, if approved, would allow Allegany County officials to market the site.

Yes, Shade acknowledged, the day-use beach, parking lot and concession stand would have to be moved. But he insisted public access to the state park would not be hindered by such a project.

This map, created by Allegany County government, shows relocated amenities on a site nearly one-third the size of the existing 35-acre day use area.

Still, “Save the Gap” supporters have assembled. An online petition calling for task force members to rescind the group’s recommendations has garnered 5,387 signatures as of Thursday morning. Dennis Tipton, who administers the Friends of Rocky Gap State Park Facebook page and is a leader of the Save the Gap campaign, suggested any questions could be answered on the Save the Gap website.

Tipton and his followers feel that such a move by the task force is “clearly an attempt to shut down public access to a state park,” according to the site.

A map Shade confirmed was created by Allegany County government approximately three and one-half years ago shows “the area recommended for seizure … is the entire day use area of Rocky Gap State Park, including access to swimming beaches, a fishing dock, fishing peninsula, community organization fundraising grounds, two pavilions, paved parking for nearly 700 vehicles, public restrooms, the ranger station, the cafe, a playground, and acres of picnic area,” according to the site. “In fact, everything located inside the current entrance gates is included in the proposal for privatization …”

Tipton and the Save the Gap suggested that Edwards, Shade and other public officials’ insistence that the amenities could be moved to a different location within the park is “insufficient,” in part because that area — in the three-year-old concept, it would sit on less than 13 acres — includes the amphitheater and would then require inconsistent mixed-use by park patrons. It also has “less than ample parking” for current events, much less larger day-use beach crowds. The outlined area does not allow for expansion, advocates said.

“The site is less than half of the size of the current day use area that is being considered for privatization. Additionally, construction of beaches would require significant lake dredging, as the depth of the lake in thaat area is not sufficient for swimming. All of this would follow after millions of dollars of financial investment by the State of Maryland, having rebuilt the facilities in the daay use area within recent years and having rebuilt the parking lot only two years ago.”

Shade said the recommendations are an attempt for the county to get something out of the state-owned land — more than 60,000 acres in Allegany County alone (including 48,000 acres in nearby Green Ridge State Forest).

“It’d be nice if we were arguing whether to bring a hundred jobs and hundreds of millions” of investment dollars, Shade said. “I think most people are rightfully concerned (but) once you explain it, it takes the wind out” of their argument.

He emphasized that the park would always be public land, and that any project once on the table is now dead, as Great Wolf Lodge moved on from the site.

Filed in: Allegany County, Featured News, Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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