Rocky Gap's rocky road turns green Western Maryland: Golf course, conference center illustrate importance of tourism for region.

March 24, 1998

IT TOOK 20 years and $54 million backed by the state, but the rustic lodge and conference center at Rocky Gap State Park, eight miles east of Cumberland, finally opens for business today.

Much is riding on its success.

Western Maryland, with historic high unemployment and a vanishing industrial base, badly needs tourism and recreation jobs to generate a revival.

When Rocky Gap's signature golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus is ready for play this fall, backers believe the complex will become a magnet for vacationers, sports enthusiasts and business executives seeking a convenient site for meetings.

Rocky Gap is indeed convenient for quick getaways. It's a two-hour drive from Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh, and four hours from Philadelphia.

That is a huge market of more than 16 million people.

Nicklaus-designed courses are highly coveted by golfers. The heavily forested 7,000-yard course, with its steep terrain and 240-acre lake just off Interstate 68, could lure a variety of recreational travelers to the lakeshore lodge with its panoramic view of the large state park.

The fact that the 220-room lodge is the only four-star resort in Western Maryland should also generate business from interstate travelers and those seeking comfortable accommodations while exploring the area.

That, in turn, could spur a rash of development this side of Cumberland as businesses try to capitalize on the discovery of this accessible part of Western Maryland by urban and suburban dwellers in the Baltimore-Washington-Philadelphia corridor.

But no private-sector company was willing to act as a trendsetter on its own. That's why it took two decades and heavy state participation to bring this dream to fruition.

Hans F. Mayer of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. -- which takes on "Mission: Impossible" business projects for the state -- and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. of Cumberland refused to let the Rocky Gap dream die.

The next step requires commitments from business leaders to book events at Rocky Gap and a heavy marketing effort by Maryland's tourism officials. The project cannot be allowed to fail.

Filling the rooms, and later the tee times, won't be easy in the initial months. We shouldn't expect immediate paybacks.

It took decades for Western Maryland to plunge into economic depression; it will take time for the region to stage a comeback.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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