The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has proposed building two recreational trails for off-road vehicles in the westernmost portion of Washington County.
The proposal to build the trails on state-owned land at Sideling Hill North and Sideling Hill South is to be discussed Sept. 4 during a meeting at the New Germany State Park Lake House in Garrett County, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
DNR said it is proposing another off-road vehicle trail in Garrett County at St. Johns Rock.
The proposals could meet with resistance from environmental groups, according to Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany.
Myers said he believes constituents in Western Maryland who enjoy operating off-road vehicles would benefit from the trails, but said environmental groups and some Democrats might oppose the measure.
“They won’t go forward with them if there are any” environmental issues, Myers said.
He said state officials are in the process of studying the feasibility of the project, which is in its infancy stage.
Like Myers, Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, said he believed the trails would meet resistance from environmentalists. He vowed to oppose those efforts and fight for the interests of Washington County residents.
“To someone who says they want to save an endangered turtle in some Western Maryland creek, I’ll tell them to turn around and go back home,” he said.
Donoghue said the trails would provide recreational spots for local off-road vehicle enthusiasts and bring in dollars from tourists with the same interests.
Angie Hummer, manager of Fort Frederick State Park, which manages the historic Woodmont Lodge near the site of the proposed trail at Sideling Hill South, said she didn’t believe the trail’s construction would interrupt the natural tranquility at the lodge.
Hummer said the lodge is far enough away to be shielded from the noise of off-road vehicles if the trail gets built.
“By the way the crow flies, (the trail would be) a couple of miles away,” she said.
Impact on Hancock
The town of Hancock is about eight miles to the east of the proposed trails at Sideling Hill.
Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said in an email that after reviewing maps of the proposed trails, he believed their remote nature “should not have any negative impact on long-term residents of that area, which would be my first concern.”
“No one should have to sit in their yard and listen to motorized vehicles passing by at all hours of the day,” Murphy said.
He said he would assume that DNR would conduct noise tests in its environmental impact studies.
“DNR has the expertise to evaluate soil erosion, forestation impact, watershed issues, and wildlife concerns ... I would trust their call,” he said.
Murphy said he understands the need for new off-road vehicle trails after the closure of the ORV trail at Green Ridge State Forest.
The state also recently closed off-road vehicle trails at Pocomoke State Forest and Savage River State Forest after environmental assessments were made, according to DNR.
“Finding a secluded spot with little impact on Mother Nature and area residents is the challenge and this seems to be a good choice,” Murphy said of the proposed Sideling Hill trails.
He said he preferred not to comment on the proposed site in Garrett County.
“That having been said, the economic benefits to Hancock are obvious ones,” Murphy said. “We already embrace visitors who frequent the area campgrounds, whitetail deer lands, Potomac River floaters and fishermen, hikers and bikers. These ORV trails would add another group willing to spend money in Hancock for supplies, food, gasoline, lodging, and so on.”
Attempts to reach representatives from the environmental groups Sierra Club and Izaak Walton League were unsuccessful.
DNR has made the following proposals for the construction of off-road-vehicle trails in Washington County:
Sideling Hill North
The 450-acre property is in western Washington County on the western and eastern slope of Sideling Hill Mountain. The property is bordered to the north by Interstate 68 and the “Sideling Hill Cut,” which offers a view of the surrounding countryside.
U.S. 40 and Stump Road, a small county-maintained road, define the western boundary. A small dirt road on the western side of the management area adjacent to U.S. 40 provides access to the property.
An assessment of the property was conducted during the summer and fall of 2012 to determine suitability of the site. All existing trails and logging roads were evaluated for potential off-road vehicle use.
Just before state acquisition in the early 1990s, a large portion of the property was clear-cut, and a network of logging roads was constructed to facilitate the removal of timber.
All of these former roads are limited to the western slopes of Sideling Hill. Most of the site is gently sloping to steep sloping land, with an oak-hickory forest comprising the entire site.
The Sideling Hill North site would add about 16 miles of round-trip off-road-vehicle trails to the DNR system.
Sideling Hill South
The Sideling Hill South trail would add about eight miles to the trail system and consists of a similar network of roads on the south side of U.S. 40.
An assessment of Sideling Hill South was completed in the fall of 2012 to determine the possible use for off-road vehicles. This area is on the eastern slope of Sideling Hill, east of Riser Road.
The slope of this area varies from near zero to approximately 18 percent. The assessment area generally is rocky with poor soils. Oak-hickory forests dominate the area. Access to the property is made from Riser Road at the intersection of U.S. 40.
The proposed trail currently is old logging roads with some existing road and trail beds. This area features numerous intermittent streams and springs crossing the existing old logging roads and trail beds. The trails have not been maintained and are overgrown with vegetation, woody shrubs and trees.
This proposal includes existing trail connections with several loops. Other sections would require construction of new trail segments.
The recent assessment identified approximately 16 miles of round-trip trail for use. This area currently is open for hunting, wildlife watching, hiking and other outdoor recreational activities.
To view maps of the proposed off-road vehicle trails, go to www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/orv_Projects.asp.