Burton on the Bay:

Meet the 'Bay' of Western Maryland:
Deep Creek Lake

Deep Creek Lake-Out here in the cool mountains of Garrett County, one is about as far away as possible from the Chesapeake while still remaining in Maryland. Yet they have woes akin to those we endure here in the Land of Pleasant Living.

Foremost on the minds of Garrett Countians is Deep Creek Lake, a 3,900-acre man-made impoundment nestled in the lush green mountains of Western Maryland. To understand better, consider that this lake created about 70 years ago for hydroelectric generation is to Garrett Countians what Chesapeake Bay is to those who live east of Frederick County.

It is their playground, their fishing grounds and the backbone of their economy. Without Deep Creek Lake, Garrett County would be just another scenic stop-over in the rugged Appalachian chain of mountains, not much different from nearby Virginia and West Virginia.

But they have Deep Creek Lake, which draws tourists by the hundreds of thousands over the summer season. It is also a big attraction in winter when it freezes over to attract ice fishermen from afar.

In winter, the WISP Ski area practically on the shores of the lake is another attraction, but in the past winter of El Nino snow-making machinery couldn't make up for Mother Nature's neglect to provide the usual amount of white stuff.

But weather is something that Mother Nature fixes on her own. Mild winters are to be expected now and then; they come and go to mess up the fun and economy of winter resorts from Colorado to Vermont, and it's wait till next year. Those who cater to wintertime tourists understand the risks.


'Bay' for Sale

However, now there is a nagging worry in the minds of the country folks out here - and the developers from elsewhere who target Garrett County for their economic welfare. The power company, which now owns this beautiful lake, has put it up for sale.

Like many smaller hydroelectric facilities, Deep Creek Lake is no longer an economically feasible operation. What with deregulation and power companies selling electricity to each other wholesale, the smaller operations are not efficient enough to compete. This lake of 3,800 acres is just a mill pond compared to the huge reservoirs across the country.

So Deep Creek Lake has to go, go to the highest bidder presumably. No they can't knock down the dam, and drain the lake and revert the landscape to a meandering river, but there are other issues involved here: like what do people do who own summer and year 'round homes and businesses on its shore?

Access to the lake is vital. What good is the crown jewel of Western Maryland if boaters, fishermen and swimmers can't get to its waters? Just looking isn't enough.

The utility owns a ring of land around its waters; has since the beginning back in the late 1920s. That border can range from a thin slice of 20 or so feet to several hundred feet, depending on the topography. That perimeter is figured on feet above sea level; deep shoreline drops are narrow, while flat and marshy lands can extended several hundred feet inland.

Whatever the width, the buffer is open to the public. One can take the long hike virtually around the 13-mile long lake - with its 70 miles of shoreline - without fear of trespassing, though some who have built on its shores over the years have come to think they have rights to the water's edge because they mow the lawns, maintain the docks and such.

But they're wrong. It's open to everyone, and in recent years that was made very plain by Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which has a contract to manage the lake.


Getting (back to) the Bay

You might say - and convincingly - that those who live, vacation or otherwise. Deep Creek Lake have it better than their counterparts who do likewise on the Chesapeake. The public's access to the Bay is very limited, as nearly all the shoreline is privately owned and trespassers are unwelcome.

Too bad that back when Bayfront property was affordable, the state didn't either buy outright or otherwise set aside long thin chunks of it for public use. We have state parks and launching facilities, but they're few and far between.

We have the Chesapeake Bay, but we don't have much access to it, and somehow it's not right. We ante up as much as those who live on its shores do for Bay enhancement, restoration and other programs, yet we can't walk down to its waters or roam its shorelines.

Perish the thought - no, let's come out with it - maybe (and I stress maybe) it's time to consider assessing a modest fee for Bayfront property, the proceeds of which would be earmarked for the purchase of or easement rights to more of the Bayfront for public access.


Oiling the Waters of East-West Relations

This said, let's get back to Deep Creek Lake Country, where Meshach Browning was to the land what Capt. John Smith was to Chesapeake Bay. Meshach Browning roamed the lands seeking trout, deer, bear, panthers, wolves, wild turkeys, grouse and such.

The idea of selling Deep Creek Lake came as a shocker to those hereabouts. Suppose developers with big bucks came up with the money to buy the lake for profit? Suppose they cut off public access? Suppose they charged excessive fees for licenses to maintain the many hundreds of docks behind the homes that ring the lake? Suppose they developed the shoreline for complexes of condominiums and high-priced recreational facilities?

Fortunately, the State of Maryland has made it known that it is interested in the purchase, but at this time there are no guarantees - even though the anticipated price is figured to be in the neighborhood of a bargain $32 million.

This is Ellen Sauerbrey Country out here, where guns and hunting are big. But Gov. Parris Glendening's announcement that the state is more than interested in buying the lake could soften anti-Annapolis feeling everywhere hereabouts.

"You people on Chesapeake Bay don't ask us what to do about oysters and rockfish, but you tell us what to do about bears." That is a common complaint among locals who experience bruin encounters involving nuisance and crop damage, yet endure strict bear protective laws and minimal compensation for bear damages.

Soon, funding the purchase of Deep Creek Lake will be in the news, undoubtedly when the General Assembly next meets, so this writer thought a little background would be appropriate. Out here, they have what we don't: access to their treasured body of water, the lifeblood of their way of living. And they deserve to keep it.

Enough said ...

| Back to Archives |

VolumeVI Number 26
July 2-8, 1998
New Bay Times

| Current Issue |