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July 27, 2022

River Park at Canal Place retains key backers

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Greg Larry

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Canal Place officials said Tuesday that key partners necessary to further plans for a proposed $20 million river park along the Potomac River remain committed to the project.

An update on the attraction was provided at a meeting of the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority at the Western Maryland Railway Station. The proposed park includes installing a moderate whitewater course on the river behind Canal Place, along with docks for canoes and kayaks, walking trails and a viewing area.

A key feature of the project would include removing the dam beneath the Blue Bridge linking Cumberland and Ridgeley, West Virginia, to allow unencumbered navigation of the waterway. The primary entity that would oversee the dam removal is Water and Land Solutions, LLC, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Water and Land Solutions will also work to address mitigation of any toxic sediments behind the dam. River park advocates believe dam removal combined with mitigation of harmful agents will have a positive impact on the environmental health of the Potomac River by returning it to its natural state.

Canal Place officials asked the Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland’s Interagency Review Team to consider an ecological improvement zone stretching from Cumberland to the Chesapeake Bay. Water and Land Solutions had indicated that a larger service area may be critical to making the project work financially.

However, the Interagency Review Team denied the request, but said a smaller service should be justifiable.

“We did not get that service area (we requested), however we got a smaller service area that is very workable and doable,” said Dee Dee Ritchie, Canal Place executive director. “So Water and Land Solutions is still on board to help us through that project.”

Ritchie said she has also garnered the support of American Rivers, one of the leading river conservation organizations in the country, which can provide guidance and grant opportunities.

“I’m elated over the progress,” said Ritchie. “It is great timing.”

The project also received good news in early June when Robin Summerfield, field representative for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, said a request by Canal Place for $12 million for the river project would be sought. Summerfield said the request would be submitted “to the transportation housing and urban development committee, and we hope to get that passed in time for the start for fiscal 2023.”

“Not only will they be very much involved helping with the project … but I can’t say thank you enough to Sen. Cardin, Robin Summerfield, Sen. (Chris) Van Hollen, Congressman (David) Trone, for the $12 million that we got for the river park,” Ritchie said. “For me, that shows so much support for us up here in Allegany County. They know the economic benefit that park is going to have here.”

Ritchie said the park is likely to help draw outdoor manufacturing companies to the area.

Of the $12 million, Ritchie said $6 million will go toward the river trail, which will include dam removal. The other $6 million will go to additional walking trails and a parking area.

According to Ritchie, the next step will likely be an engineering study to pinpoint the cost of removing the dam at the site.