Monday, October 19, 2009

Ayres Creek Project Stalled

A group of non-profit organizations, the town of Ocean City and Worcester County have a chance to transform an old, unused landfill into a recreational site, creating another great opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy our beautiful natural resources.

The West Ocean City property is located along Lewis Rd. Although it is beyond town limits, the property is owned by the town of Ocean City. It was used as landfill from the 1950s until 1980, and in 2007 it was declared a safe area by state officials.

The proposed recreational project called the Ayers Creek Water Trail would be on the 37-acre site, which includes 450 feet of shoreline. The site would also have an entry gate, a parking area and a 120-foot long wooden walkway and could possibly become a kayak launch in the future. Work for the project would be paid for by a $47,000 State Highway Administration grant.

The idea originated from local kayaker Spencer Rowe, who worked with non-profit and government entities – the Coastal Bays Program, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, DLITE and Worcester County Tourism officials – interested in establishing local water trails with the hope that the site would develop into an interpretation program to educate tourists and local residents about the rich nature and heritage of our coastal bays. With the funding in place, all that remained was to get approval from the town.

Unfortunately, the Ocean City Council decided last week that due to liability concerns they will not sign off on the project, suggesting that either the Coastal Bays Program or Worcester County government be responsible for liability insurance.

In hundreds of municipalities throughout the country, local, state and county officials have united with citizens to turn brownfields into safe and productive parks and tourism attractions. These transformed landfills are ideal for parks because of their size, location, and low cost. One such park is the very popular Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. The park spans 165 acres with hills more than 60 feet high and 800 feet long. Facilities include picnic shelters, playground areas, a basketball court, four volleyball areas, parking, vending machines and restrooms, multiple walking trails and two fishing.

Obviously, the Ayres Creek project would not be nearly as complex, but will simply create water access that provides a route for paddlers to travel along the picturesque creek and Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent Bays. The water trail flows about six miles to the Worcester County public boat ramp at South Point on Chincoteague Bay. From there, paddlers can go to the canoe launches at Ferry Landing Road and Bayside Drive on Assateague Island National Seashore or they can travel along Sinepuxent Bay roughly four miles to the Assateague State Park boat ramp at the Verrazano Bridge. It could be a potential location for kayak regattas, which are increasing in popularity throughout the country.

The development of the Ayres Creek Water Trail would also be an important tool to promote tourism by providing the only public water access in upper Ayers Creek that would connect to established areas. Expanding water trails enhances water based recreational opportunities in the area. In addition, it will also help local environmental organizations protect the water quality of Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays.

The non-profit Coastal Bays Program has simply been a facilitator in this process and stands no economic gain. We have worked with county and state officials to get this project up and running and we are almost there. It would a shame to let it go now. We are hopeful that resort officials will have a change of heart, or that perhaps Worcester County will step up to the plate and make this project a model for what is achievable through cooperative partnerships.

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