The river runs wild, for now Youghiogheny: Competing interests need regulation along scenic Western Maryland waterway.

November 26, 1998

WILD IS the debate over uses of Maryland's only "wild and scenic" river, the Youghiogheny in westernmost Garrett County.

Riverfront landholders want to log their properties to cash in on high timber prices. Recreation enthusiasts and environmentalists want to preserve the woodlands along the 28-mile river corridor.

Commercial fishing guides seek to expand their business along the same parts of the "Yock" where kayakers and rafters are fighting to protect their growing sports. Meanwhile, the hydroelectric dam releases water from Deep Creek Lake into the river only when it is profitable, though whitewater runners prefer a steady flow.

The Youghiogheny was named a wild and scenic river in 1968, but the management plan took 28 years to finish. By then, competing demands on the river had escalated, spurred by mounting recreational use and higher log prices.

Maryland rules prohibit clear-cutting of woodlands and require a vegetation buffer to screen logged areas from the river. But there are exceptions, which can lead to erosion, sediment pollution and higher water temperatures that threaten schools of trout and bass.

Property owners argue that their rights are crimped over an aesthetic issue. Three-quarters of the Yock corridor is state-owned. And ill feelings run deep in Western Maryland, where much of the land is owned by the state.

But the dynamics are complicated: Recreational users need private access to reach the river, providing income for landowners. Rules on clear-cutting and stream buffers are not peculiar to the Youghiogheny; they are protections enforced elsewhere.

Changes to the river's management plan, allowing commercial fishing trips but requiring written landowner permission, are proposed. A plan to extend the buffer to 100 feet from shore was rejected. That's more reason for the state to strictly limit logging along the 50-foot zone, lest it kill the unique wildness of the Yock.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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