>Garrett group wants $500,000 for Continental Divide Loop
Kristin Harty Barkley
Cumberland Times-News The Cumberland Times-News Wed Feb 23, 2011, 07:42 AM EST
OAKLAND — A group that wants to create a connected trail system in Garrett County is asking the Garrett County Board of Commissioners for $100,000 a year for five years to get the project off the ground.
Mike Dreisbach, vice president of Garrett Trails, said the payoff could be exponential.
“Allegany County got $500,000 from commissioners for their section of the Great Allegheny Passage,” said Dreisbach, who also serves on the Mountain Maryland Trails board.
“It came, basically, from hotel/motel occupancy tax. Their half-a-million-dollar investment gets them between $5 (million) and $6 million a year now in direct and indirect spending in that little 22-mile stretch. … We’re asking you to invest in tourism,” he said at last week’s public meeting.
Commissioners are in the process of drafting the county’s fiscal 2012 budget, which should be available for public perusal in the next few weeks. Considering the state budget crisis and the national recession, funding is expected to be extremely tight.
Garrett County’s hotel tax is 5 percent and generates about $1.5 million a year. Last year, county officials asked the state legislative delegation to introduce a bill that would allow them to raise the tax to 8 percent, but later retracted the request because of opposition from business owners.
Last week, Dreisbach and Garrett Trails President Steve Green gave a 20-minute presentation to commissioners, all of whom are new to the board this year.
Garrett Trails, which formed more than a decade ago, is developing plans for a trail network approximately 150 miles long that will connect many of the county’s towns to the Great Allegheny Passage. One segment, being called the Continental Divide Loop, would come off the passage at Meyersdale, Pa., to Penn Alps Restaurant, and then off the passage at Confluence, Pa., and eventually to Friendsville.
“The trail offers amazing and spectacular views,” said Dreisbach, adding that it would include some water routes, as well as opportunities for hiking and biking. “We envision this as an opportunity for people to say, ‘I did the loop.’ The draw of that is pretty spectacular.”
Garrett Trails received a $30,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission last summer and hopes to begin construction on some segments later this year.
“We have a lot of momentum going, a lot of interest,” said Green, co-owner of High Mountain Sports.
Last year, close to 85,000 people used the Great Allegheny Passage, a 135-mile trail from Cumberland to Duquesne, Pa. In 2010, the GAP generated about $85 million in revenue. In 2009, about 66,000 people used the trail, generating about $65 million, Dreisbach said.
“It’s had a big impact on all the businesses along the trail,” said Dreisbach, who owns Savage River Lodge. “It’s brought new businesses to the area. … When we talk about our Continental Divide Loop, we’ve got a similar thing. Actually, we’ve got some better things up here. We’ve got the history, all the scenic things. We never really tied everything together. It’s really a great opportunity for us.”
Green and other Garrett Trails representatives at-tended Mountain Maryland PACE events this year, trying to gain support from local and state officials.
“It really does boil down to, we need money,” Dreisbach told commissioners last week. “There are private people out there who are wanting to put money into it, but they’re wanting to see some ownership from the government and other people in the county. We’d get more traction in this whole process if we could just get some investment.”
Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at firstname.lastname@example.org