No longer a 'best-kept secret' Relaxed way of life, better access make Garrett County boom

October 22, 1995|By Glenn Tolbert

McHENRY, Md. -- THE local promotion council doesn't like it, but there is a comfortably accurate saying that goes: "Alaska is to the lower 48 states what Garrett County is to the rest of Maryland."

The lack of enthusiasm for the expression comes from fears that it makes Garrett County sound too remote from the rest of the state and too cold to attract winter visitors. Yet the implied

remoteness from urban regions and the hint of chilling winters in the comparison to Alaska are two of the very factors bringing about a rediscovery of one of Maryland's most pristine regions. It also means that promotional groups have had to drop a favorite advertising phrase which called the county "Maryland's

best-kept secret."

"It wasn't all that long ago that many people in the Baltimore-Washington area didn't know that there was anything left of Maryland once you went past Frederick," says Department of Natural Resources Western Liaison Gary Yoder. "Now that's changed in a big way. Of course, for us Western Maryland locals, we feel like we've left the real Maryland once we get past Frederick and head toward Baltimore."

Mr. Yoder, a longtime resident of Garrett County, says the newfound enthusiasm for the state's most western region comes, in part, from improved roads which make the drive to Garrett County only three hours from the center of either Baltimore or Washington, instead of four to 4 1/2 hours as it used to be. The result is a change in the mix of visitors, who were once primarily from Pittsburgh, two hours away, and now are outnumbered by fugitives from the Baltimore/Washington and Northern Virginia megalopolis.

"For people in metro areas who don't think anything of a one-hour commute to work, driving three hours for a weekend getaway is nothing," says Mr. Yoder. "What they get for their brief car time is a physical world incredibly different from their daily realities of city life."

Part of that "world-away" includes thousands of acres of the state's most pristine forests intersected only occasionally by mountain bike and hiking trails. World-class trout streams also beckon, as does Deep Creek Lake, which with its 62 miles of shoreline is easily the state's largest body of fresh water. Some of the region's best cross-country and downhill skiing as well as mountaintop golf courses helps round out the rest of the attraction. But visitors say the appeal can be more subtle than the outdoors activities or even the beautiful environment.

A sense of security

It may have as much to do with the feeling that cars and even

front doors can be left unlocked without much concern. And no one complains about the 3,300-foot elevation with its cool summer breezes, as the not-too-distant cities swelter in high temperatures and wilting humidity.

"It's like having your very own Aspen just a few hours' drive from Baltimore," says Robert Aherns, a free-lance videographer. The "rediscovery" of Garrett County has brought with it some benefits for lifelong residents such as the Sincells, whose family has owned the local newspaper, the Republican, since 1890. In an age when large metropolitan dailies are folding, the Garrett County weekly enjoys a hefty increase in its advertising pages.

"Part of that has to do with the fact that we are the only connection here for everyone in the county," says one of the newspaper's three reporters, Mary McEwen. Ms. McEwen, who is also the daughter of Bob Sincell, the newspaper's publisher, says the paper is something that people look forward to each week. Its long-term track record and recent advertising gains have not changed the time-proven method by which the paper is published every week.

Thursdays at the Oakland-based paper see reporters and the editor hurriedly finishing articles. The news staff then pastes up the pages and changes clothes to go downstairs to work the presses. The editor, Don Sincell, Mary's brother, throws the freshly bundled papers into the back of a pickup truck and takes on some of the responsibilities for the weekly deliveries.

The U.S. Postal Service sends copies of the Republican to subscribers in every state of the Union. "It's a reflection of national interest in this area," says Ms. McEwen. "People who have lived here or even just passed through here want to keep up with what is going on in Garrett County."

Ted Koppel is a long-time subscriber and can be seen enjoying some of the restaurants along Deep Creek Lake. Chief executives from some of the nation's largest corporations, including Coors Beer, come here for frequent respites from their busy lives. And the inventor of the Big Mac has not only invested in a summer place here but owns several of the most popular and successful businesses in the county.

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