City money floods Deep Creek Lake

Resort: Million-dollar houses and $5,500 weekly rentals are crowding out longtime vacationers of modest means.

July 27, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

McHENRY - For 14 summers, Sharon DeVore spent many a cherished morning sitting outside the family trailer with her tea, sleepily contemplating Deep Creek Lake stretched out in front of her.

But this summer, DeVore's daily ritual has vanished like the dawn mist.

The Frostburg nurse and her husband learned in January that Glen Acres mobile home park, their longtime summer base, was shutting down, leaving the couple without a place on the lake where they had watched their kids fish, frolic - and grow up.

DeVore, 42, and her husband Roy, 48, a high school teacher, are among many families of modest means being squeezed off the waterfront in the remote Western Maryland resort that was once a retreat for Pittsburgh steelworkers' families.

Deep Creek Lake was a haven for summer renters who enjoyed swimming, fishing and boating from log cabins, cottages or campgrounds.

But today, real estate agents enthusiastically liken Deep Creek Lake to Lake Tahoe. Those 60-year-old, one-bedroom log cabins nestled in mountain laurel beside the lake can fetch $400,000 in the hot market.

New lakefront luxury mansions with five or more bedrooms - "You will find the true feng shui of Deep Creek Lake here," says one ad - list for $1.8 million or more.

Local planning officials presume that the mobile home park Glen Acres will go the way of the neighborhood and be replaced by pricey new development - not to everyone's delight

"This was always the average man's haven," says Archie Reid, 61, a retired Pittsburgh electrician who has brought his family here for years. Reid says he hopes average working men can continue to afford summers at Deep Creek, which was long the antithesis of upscale.

Cooky McClung, a Chestertown journalist, says she has fond childhood memories of summers at the lake: "It was very quiet and you came home knowing you had a vacation," she wrote in a recent letter to The Sun.

"If yuppies want to enjoy the wilderness, " she wrote, "why don't they build homes that fit into the area, leaving in place some semblance of the natural wonders around them and keeping their garish, sprawling horrors near the cities and suburbs they've already ruined?"

The charge to the lake, with its 65 miles of shoreline, is being led by wealthy Baltimore- and Washington-area professionals seeking vacation or retirement homes.

Once considered too remote by the rest of the state, the lake region firmly entered Baltimore and Washington's consciousness with the construction of Interstate 68, dedicated in 1991. The highway made Deep Creek about as close to Baltimore, by travel time, as Ocean City.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have increased interest in vacation places within driving distance, and the stock market decline has pushed some investors into real estate.

"I look at Deep Creek as the new Lake Tahoe," says Lisa Goodfellow, a local Long & Foster real estate agent. "Within three to four hours, you can have a ski resort or a lake."

The surge in home sales and rentals has been a boon for Garrett County's economy. "These are second homes primarily," said John Nelson, the county planning and zoning director. "These folks are not sending their children to Garrett County schools, so they are providing tax base and not using educational services."

But for everyone benefiting, there is someone else whose vision of the lake is being punctured like a child's inner tube -such as Joan Lease, 59, of Baltimore, whose family camped and rented homes here for years.

She and her husband, a salesman, had considered retiring at the lake but now doubt they can stomach the crowds and the cost.

"I always wanted to retire to a cabin in the woods, but those cabins are too expensive," Lease said. She remembers the lake once being dubbed Maryland's "best-kept secret" and laments: "I wish it would have been kept a secret. It's a beautiful area, and everybody wants to be there."

Goodfellow says retirement homes without lake access or views are still available in the area for under $150,000. Rentals, she said, range from $900 a week for a townhouse or cabin to $5,500 a week for a house on the lake.

The state, which bought the man-made lake in 2000 from a Pennsylvania utility, operates a park, a boat launch and public fishing area. There are a handful of signs around the lake directing visitors to other easily accessible public areas.

But the state might need to acquire more land if it is to ensure that Deep Creek remains adequately available to those without deep pockets.

"I believe in the future there will be a demand because the state park in the summer fills up," said ranger Paul Durham, the park manager. "If the state were to wait five to 10 years, it would be extremely expensive land."

For now, Deep Creek is clearly in transition. There are new art galleries and gated communities for the "yuppies" McClung refers to. A snow tubing park opened last winter at the Wisp ski resort, which also offers 22 slopes and trails.

But there remain vestiges of the area's past.

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