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February 01, 2023

River Park advocates seeking $20M in funding

Credit: Cumberland Times News

CUMBERLAND — Canal Place officials hope to secure $20 million in state funding to continue plans for a proposed river park along the Potomac River.

An update on the attraction was provided Tuesday at a meeting of the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority at the Western Maryland Railway Station. The proposed park, estimated to cost roughly $30 million, 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.

River park advocates were encouraged when Maryland Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones visited Cumberland and Canal Place in late November.

Dee Dee Ritchie, executive director of Canal Place, said Allegany County Commissioner Bill Atkinson and Del. Mike McKay “explained to (Jones) how important the project is to our community. As a result of that meeting, she suggested we ask for $20 million in funding.” Ritchie said the funds would likely come from Gov. Wes Moore’s capital budget.

According to Ritchie, the funding, if approved, would likely be issued in smaller tranches over a few years. The first allotment will be used to continue engineering studies provided by the firm Civil Environmental Consultants.

The project has received a designation of $6 million in federal funding obtained through the offices of Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Rep. David Trone, according to Ritchie. Those funds will be used for trail development and parking spaces.

“In addition, we hope to get another $6 million for removing the dam and sediment removal as well as the whitewater features,” said Ritchie in a Times-News interview.

Plans for the river park include removing the industrial/flood control dam beneath the Blue Bridge which connects Ridgeley, West Virginia, to Cumberland. Ritchie said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will need to sign off on the dam removal for that phase of the project to take place.

River park supporters received more good news when West Virginia officials recently gave them positive feedback on the project.

“Del. McKay asked us to get in touch with West Virginia (officials) as far as seeking support for the river park project,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie; Atkinson; Ashli Workman, Allegany County Tourism director; and Jim Christie, Civil Environmental Consultants, met with Ridgeley Mayor Bill Sheppard, Capendale Councilman Butch Armentrout, and Kevin Clark, director of Mineral County Economic Development.

“I’m pleased to announce that they are very supportive of what we are doing here in Maryland,” said Ritchie. “They are going to start applying for grants in West Virginia. One of the things they suggested, Mayor Shepherd, they want to light the Blue Bridge going into Cumberland.

“Ridgeley had already expressed interest … they will pay for the electric to light the bridge,” said Ritchie. “My role is to contact (the Maryland) State Highway Administration to see how they will proceed with that. They are very much in favor of that and we will be scheduling a meeting with them. The Ridgeley officials are excited because of the opportunities it affords their towns.”

Del. Gary Howell, who had some concerns early on, told the Times-News he does see opportunity in expanding the trails. He would like to consider developing a trail from Ridgeley and Carpendale along the West Virginia and Maryland rail lines south to Keyser and possibly extending it to Charleston.

Canal Place also received positive developments in regard to the visitors’ center at the Western Maryland Railway Station, which has been closed for several months.

“We have good news regard the Cumberland visitors’ center,” said Anthony Bates of the National Park Service. “We recently hired two new park rangers who have done a great job with becoming very familiar with the western portion of the park. We are hoping to be able to have the Cumberland and Williamsport visitors’ centers open Saturdays and Sundays beginning March 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“As we get further into our peak season we hope to be able to increase our visitation hours to extend at both centers. But this will all be dependent on whether we can increase our staffing. We’ve had some concerns with our HR department.” Bates said human resources has had many applications but has struggled to keep up with the hiring process.

“People are definitely applying, it’s just a matter of our HR department having a backlog and them being able to get to it,” said Bates.

Canal Place is also expected to have four EV charging stations installed later this year.