McHENRY - A marina owner wants to launch a bigger, better tour boat, but some neighbors say the vessel should remain dry-docked. A would-be entrepreneur pitches the idea of a floating hot dog stand, and businesses along the shore cry foul.
Jet Skis and other personal watercraft? Some love the thrill; others see them as noisy pests that have no place in the tranquil coves of Deep Creek Lake.
At this Western Maryland getaway, most folks agree that the spring fishing's been good, and hopes are high for a lucrative summer tourist season. But a new era of state ownership of the lake has spawned conflict over what should be allowed on the sometimes crowded water.
"It was supposed to be smooth, it was supposed to be `status quo' when Maryland bought the lake," said Carol Jacobs, owner of the lakefront Aquatic Center Inc. and a critic of stricter limits on personal watercraft. "It hasn't been."
All this contention flared in the spring, when a board that shares regulatory authority with the state mapped a blueprint for the popular vacation spot's future. Hit with proposals that included a 62-foot tour boat and tighter restrictions on personal watercraft - and knowing that more development near the water would mean more boats - the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board postponed specific decisions.
Instead, the board is recommending the first independent study of boat traffic at the lake in more than a decade.
"There were some pent-up questions," said Karen F. Myers, a real estate developer who represents the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce on the policy board. "I really believe it's prudent to thoroughly look at ... the impact that the new use or different use would have on the entire lake community."
Fred A. Thayer, a retired Circuit Court judge who represents the local property owners association on the board, called a likely increase in boat traffic the most critical issue. With large areas near the water sure to be developed at a resort that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, "Those people are going to want to be involved in what goes on the surface - particularly on Sunday at noon."
Sunny summer weekends and holidays often draw boaters in large numbers to Maryland's largest lake. Consultants who studied lake traffic in 1988 set its capacity at 350, but subsequent, informal surveys showed more than 400 boats on the water some days, said Paul Durham, manager of Deep Creek Lake State Park.
The policy board's proposed recreation and land-use plan is a product of the state's $17 million purchase last year of the 6-square-mile lake and surrounding land. Because the resort all but drives Garrett County's economy - properties on or near the water make up more than half the county's tax base - elected officials and business leaders pressed for a say in the lake's management.
They won spots on a board that has veto power on lake management policy. Wary that the state might want to revamp regulations, "status quo" became the rallying cry for some at the lake.
But, Thayer said: "We know that isn't going to happen. Things evolve - and, perhaps, appropriately so."
One issue that quickly moved toward the front of the debate was the use of personal watercraft. For more than a decade, the craft have been banned from the lake from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on warm-weather holidays and weekends in July and August.
The initial draft of the plan, prepared by the state Department of Natural Resources, called for further restrictions on the hours that personal watercraft would be allowed on the lake. It also suggested that the size and horsepower of the vessels, and the number allowed, could be limited.
Jacobs, who has 30 personal watercraft for rent, said the proposal probably would have put her out of business. Her customers sent dozens of letters complaining that current regulations were strict enough. Some called for fewer restrictions.
Durham, the park manager, said he gets more complaints about personal watercraft than anything else.
"There are a significant number of property owners who feel personal watercraft should not be on the lake - period," he said.
A recent issue of the property owners' association newsletter includes a joke that describes the typical watercraft as "a device to convert gasoline into noise."
At Johnny's Bait Shop, where Deep Creek Lake anglers have stocked their tackle boxes since the 1950s, owner Johnny Marple said that lately fishermen have been happily pulling chain pickerel and smallmouth bass from the lake. They are, he said, not always so pleased with the personal watercraft they encounter.
When some riders see a person fishing, "they've got to come over and buzz him," he said.
Jacobs, the Aquatic Center owner, says personal watercraft lovers suffer from an unfair image. She said many who rent her Sea Doo Bombardiers and Yamaha Wave Runners are family men who bring their children along.
"They're not the hellion teen-agers they're perceived to be," she said on a recent afternoon.