Woodmont welcomes all with open house

April 05, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

HANCOCK - Thelma and Richard Wagner of Hancock wanted to come the first time the Maryland Department of Natural Resources opened the Woodmont Rod and Gun Club lodge to visitors in 1996.

A flood in town that weekend kept them away, said Thelma Wagner. But she wasn't about to let a little rain Saturday keep her from missing a second chance to tour the historic hunting lodge, which once boasted presidents, entertainers and sports stars as members and guests.

"I was not going to miss it this time," said Wagner, who said her husband, a contractor, was especially interested in the architecture of the stately 1930 building. "He actually took off work today."

She was bowled over by its heavy wooden furnishings, which she captured in snapshots.

DNR officials were expecting between 200 and 300 people to take advantage of the five-hour open house, which included a chance to tour the lodge and to fish in ponds normally closed to the public, said Carolyn Mathews, of the DNR's State Forest and Parks division.


In the first two hours, almost 100 visitors had come into the lodge, Mathews said.

Among them were Thelma Wagner's sister, Phyllis Gaither of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and her daughter, Becky Gaither, who wanted a peek at the lodge.

"Just curiosity, I guess," said Phyllis Gaither, who said she and her daughter visited the former private club on a school field trip about 15 years ago, long before the state bought the property.

The state acquired the lodge and 3,425 acres of land, which is several miles southwest of Hancock along the Potomac River, for $3.1 million in 1995 after the club's declining membership decided to sell.

In July 1997, the Izaak Walton League of America signed a 15-year lease with the state that gives the private hunting club control of the lodge and 1,400 acres of surrounding land for six months out of the year in exchange for maintaining it year-round.

The deal gives members of the club's exclusive Woodmont chapter - limited to 40 members - use of the lodge and that portion of the land between Oct. 1 and March 31.

The remaining 2,000 acres of land is open to the public year-round, said Ralph Young, park manager of Fort Frederick, whose job includes overseeing the Woodmont property.

Roughly 1,000 of the 1,400 acres surrounding the lodge is open to the public for two weeks during deer firearms season, Young said.

During the six months the state controls the property, it will open it to the public for various events and conservation-related meetings, he said.

Events this year will include another open house in September, a three-day hunter safety class and a youth deer hunt, Young said.

Plans for 1999 include a spring turkey hunt, a fly fishing day for women, children's summer camps and hayrides around the property to show off land improvement efforts, he said.

If it wasn't for the partnership, the state couldn't afford to maintain the property and offer public programs, Young said.

"I think it's a win-win situation for everybody," he said.

Officials of the national conservation organization have estimated annual upkeep at between $200,000 and $250,000.

Mercersburg, Pa., hunter Patrick Collins said he isn't interested in hunting on the property, because he has his own ground to hunt on.

But Collins, 61, said he was very interested to see the lodge, a sportsmen's museum boasting period lodge furnishings, snapshots of famous members and visitors and stuffed relics of past hunts around the world.

"It's really something. This place has got a lot of history in it," he said.

"It sort of gives you cold chills," said his wife, Catherine Collins, 54, who said she was glad the state struck a deal with the private group that will ensure all that history is preserved.

Patrick Collins said he's glad the state has opened most of the formerly private hunting area to the public.

"It's really nice for people who don't have a place to go," he said.

As far as Hancock residents Larry and Donna Logan are concerned, the lodge and property should be open to the public all the time.

The couple said they oppose the state's deal with the Izaak Walton League because it restricts use of public land to a private group.

"If you're gonna purchase a state park, it should be open to the public of the state," said Larry Logan, 50.

Donna Logan, 47, said she thinks the state could operate the lodge and fund its maintenance.

The Logans said they labored over whether or not to take advantage of the open access to the ponds in the Camp Cleveland area of the property, normally closed to the public.

Though they decided to come out for a little fishing, both said they had no interest in going to see the lodge.

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