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Commissioners criticize Woodmont proposal

July 29, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners grilled a state Department of Natural Resources official Tuesday over a proposal to lease the historic Woodmont Rod & Gun Club lodge and 1,400 acres of prime hunting land to a private nonprofit organization for six months a year.

The commissioners wanted to know why a public hearing wasn't held on the plan for the property west of Hancock, and why the public wasn't informed that the property was on the market.

Michael Nelson, director of land and water conservation for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said if not for the plan for the Izaak Walton League to take over the lodge from October through March each year, the state would have to consider boarding up the lodge.

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Although the new chapter of the Walton League would not pay rent under the plan, it would pay $180,000 to $200,000 a year for upkeep of the 18,700-square-foot lodge and other buildings, Nelson said.

The league also would have to pay to insure the lodge and its artifacts, he said.

Commissioner John S. Shank asked why the general public wasn't informed that the property was on the market.

"You might have gotten a better deal," he said.

Commissioner James R. Wade asked why a public hearing wasn't held, and why running of the lodge wasn't put out for bid as are other park concessions such as those at Greenbrier State Park.

Nelson said that the Woodmont club wasn't just another concession.

"We tried to accomplish more than leasing out a concession stand at a park," Nelson said.

Nelson said open houses were advertised at the club but no group other than the Walton League approached DNR about leasing the property.

Nelson said the cost of joining the new Walton League chapter is about $10,000, and the majority of members are business executives from the Baltimore area.

"There are those that would argue that bringing business leaders to Washington County isn't such a bad thing," he said.

Nelson said having the Walton League in the county would bring prestige to the county, similar to that Hagerstown gained when the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc. moved to the city.

As part of the deal, the league would provide conservation and education programs for the public and a two-week firearms deer season would be held in the restricted area, Nelson said.

Nelson said the Board of Public Works would have to sign off on the deal before it takes effect. If the deal falls through, the state could put the use of the lodge out for bid or close it down, Nelson said.

Earl Neville, of Hagerstown, said he enjoyed bow hunting on the lodge grounds, an activity that will be restricted under the Walton League deal. He said he and his friends will buy hunting materials in Pennsylvania and boycott Maryland stores if the deal goes through.

Bob Harsh, of Hagerstown, asked why other options, such as forming a cooperative of the gun clubs in the area, weren't explored before turning over the property to "the elite people."

The 15-year lease provides a number of outs if either side isn't satisfied, Nelson said.

"We can get out of it if the partnership is not working," he said.

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