Mar. 15, 2012
by Renée Shreve
The Western Garrett County State Park Volunteers learned last Friday that an initiative they have dreamed about, promoted, and raised money for since 2005 may never become a reality. Western Regional Park Service manager Cindy Ecker, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, explained during the group’s quarterly meeting at the Discovery Center Tuesday evening why the Deep Creek Lake State Park Forest Canopy Walkway (FCW) has been canceled.
‘Like’ on Facebook!
Support the Republican Newspaper! It’s only $9.95/year for the online edition!
“It’s been a rough couple of days,” Ecker said. “I know that you all are very emotional about the Forest Canopy Walkway; you’re passionate about it; I’ve known that since I’ve taken this position.”
The DNR has modified the project several times since the volunteers proposed it, but its basic concept involves a boardwalk to allow public access to the upper parts of the park’s forest canopy – where flora and fauna can be viewed – and to provide an outdoor nature classroom. The 20-foot high wheel-chair accessible walkway would begin off the rear deck of the Discovery Center and loop around the park.
Included in the current design is an 80-foot observation tower. That structure is why Park Service superintendent Nita Settina has axed the entire project. Ecker explained that stricter Americans With Disabilities Act regulations regarding new projects constructed by state and local governments become mandatory on March 15. As a result, new Park Service projects and alterations must be fully and physically accessible.
“The requirements of the law to provide full accessibility to people with disabilities to all levels of the 80-foot Forest Canopy Walkway tower made the project impractical from a construction and maintenance standpoint,” Ecker said.
The DNR Engineering and Construction Division, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Maryland Department of Disabilities, and the U.S. Access Board recently reviewed the tower to see how it fared under the new law.
“Based on the new regulations and guidance from the U.S. Access Board, it is our opinion that you will have to include an elevator to the upper levels of the Forest Canopy Walkway observation tower to meet current regulations or only build as high as the planned accessible ramp and boardwalk,” Director Jordan Loran, DNR Engineering and Construction Division, informed Settina in a memorandum dated March 12.
Ecker told the volunteers, however, that the DNR feels it is not practical to build the tower with an external elevator. She added that providing a remote video station at the bottom of the tower with cameras at the top of the structure was not approved by a U.S. Access Board specialist. All observation levels of the tower would have to be physically accessible, Ecker said.
In addition, Settina will not approve a 20-foot high walkway without the tower, as the project would not fulfill its original mission of providing an observation component, Ecker indicated.
The estimate for the current draft design of the walkway and tower is about $989,000. An alternative, incomplete design concept is estimated at $289,000.
Approved by the DNR in the 2005-2006 time frame, the walkway was to be built and maintained by the volunteers. The group raised more than $100,000 prior to 2011, according to WGCSPV president John Pucciano.
“Much of that money (about $75,000) went toward design and engineering studies,” he wrote in an e-mail prior to Tuesday’s meeting. “In 2011, coinciding with the kickoff of the Decorated Bear fundraising event, Brookfield Energy donated $50,000 to the project, with a promise of $50,000 more. The Decorated Bear project netted just over $40,000. So, as you can see, the organization was well on its way to raising the money needed to build the project.”
Buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland? Call Jay Ferguson of Railey Realty for all of your real estate needs! I take great pride in referrals, and I assure you, I will take great care of your friends, family & colleagues!
877-563-5350 – toll free