How calling in Md. National Guard is paving way for a real fish story


September 13, 1992|By PETER BAKER

This is a story for fishermen, but not about fishermen, exactly.

Instead, it is about how when federal, state and county agencies work together on a project their efforts can result in immediate and long-term benefits for everyone.

It is a story about what is currently a mile-long gash through forested land in Garrett County and what eventually will be a 2.2-mile paved road leading to a new ranger station, a 50-car parking lot and a dual-lane launch ramp at Jennings Randolph Lake.

The current chapter of the story begins on a spur off Mount Zion Road, where Maryland National Guard combat engineers have been carving a rutted roadway with heavy equipment, chain saws and other hand tools.

But the story begins in 1987, when a statewide boating access survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources showed an interest on the part of the Garrett County commissioners in construction of a ramp on the Maryland side of Jennings Randolph Lake.

Since the lake was dedicated in 1981, the only access to the Army Corps of Engineers impoundment has been from the West Virginia side, a 20-mile round trip for Maryland anglers.

Since 1987, DNR has completed engineering plans, signed a 25-year lease with the Corps of Engineers for use of federal land and secured funding commitments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complement budgeted money from the DNR Waterways Improvement Funds.

But it was not until Lt. David Marple and Sgt. Wayne Crowe of the Maryland National Guard 121st Engineers Battalion departed from Mount Zion Road that the project really began to gather a full head of steam.

Since Aug. 10, Marple, Crowe and a crew of 33 Guardsmen from Western Maryland have cleared 56 percent of the roadbed leading to the lake.

By Sept. 30, they will have finished their part of the job.

If all goes well, perhaps as early as next year Maryland anglers will have direct access to one of the least-used impoundments in the state -- from the Jennings Randolph dam upstream to Fairfax Stone along the North Branch of the Potomac River.

"I think [the lake] is a secret, really," Bruce Gilmore, director of the state Boating Administration, said on site Tuesday.

"It has a reputation of not being well known for the fish that are there, but also because it is also very difficult to get into. That's what we are hoping to overcome."

The ramp will take care of access, and said Robert Bachman, chief of Maryland Freshwater Fisheries, during the past 10 years nature has taken care of problems with acidic water.

"We have been stocking trout from below the dam in the reservoir," Bachman said, after explaining that biological activity the lake acts as a buffer against spikes of acid water that come down river. "And this year we are going to change the creel limit from two fish per day to five fish per day."

Bachman said the reservoir also supports populations of largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, trout and catfish.

"I would say that right at the moment the best two fisheries in the lake are trout and walleye," Bachman said. "Although I gather from what some of the biologists say there are some pretty nice crappie in there, too."

John Marple, who runs Johnny's Bait House at nearby Deep Creek Lake, said he hears the most about largemouth bass.

"There are probably more largemouth in here than there are in Deep Creek Lake," Marple said, "and like on the Fourth of July there were three or four boats on the reservoir."

With new access, the number of boaters is bound to increase -- fishermen, water skiers, sailors and canoeists.

On the Maryland side, for the time being, usage of the 1,000-acre lake would be limited only by the capacity of the parking lot.

"Even if the parking lot were filled 24 hours a day," Gilmore said, figuring 50 trailered boats at any one time, "that still leaves a lot of surface area unused.

"It is a big lake."

L Plans call for an office and bait store to be built on site.

"Although if these National Guardsmen continue to do such a good job as they are doing, and save as much money as we appear to be saving," Gilmore said, "our budget may be adjusted so that maybe some of those other items can be worked into an earlier phase."

Gilmore said that approximately $60,000 of waterways money has been budgeted for the project. DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown said that the savings to the state will be $1 million or more because without the National Guard the project would not have been started for another couple of years at least.

So what is the 121st Battalion of combat engineers doing in a place like this rather than building bridges in Central America?

There are several factors involved in bringing the Guard on site, but the bottom line is that there were federal training funds available that had to be used by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer had made this project a priority.

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