SWANTON, Md. - The forest canopy walkway project at the Discovery Center located at Deep Creek Lake State Park was nixed because it does not meet the accessibility needs for individuals with disabilities, according to Nita Settina, superintendent of the Maryland Park Service.
"The Maryland Department of Natural Resource has concluded that it is not practical to build an observation tower of 70 to 80 feet in height with an external elevator," said Settina, in an email to the Times-News.
It was determined by the DNR Engineering and Construction Division in consultation with the Attorney General's Office, Maryland Department of Disabilities and the U.S. Access Board that the walkway is not in accordance with the 2010 Standard for Accessible Design, which became mandatory last week, according to Settina.
Money already spent on the design and engineering studies for the walkway will not be returned, according to Settina.
"The department sought the guidance and advice of the Attorney General's Office and determined that funds spent on the design and engineering studies for the walkway will not be returned as these expenses were directly in support of the walkway project and, therefore, are considered a legal and legitimate expense associated with the project for which the funds are raised," said Settina.
The estimate for the original draft design for the project was $989,233, according to Settina. The Western Garrett County State Park Volunteer Group had raised and dedicated $72,705 in cash to the project.
Money that was not spent on the project will be returned, according to Settina.
Prior to 2011, more than $100,000 was raised for the project, according to John Pucciano, president of the volunteer group. In 2011, bears were decorated by local artists and auctioned off at the Discover the Bears Gala fundraiser, which netted more than $40,000. The money from the gala was raised to benefit all Deep Creek Lake State Park projects, according to Settina.
"The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recognizes and appreciates the tremendous volunteer and community support for the Forest Canopy Walkway project," states a DNR news release. "We understand the disappointment that many feel regarding the decision to discontinue fundraising and development of this laudable project."
The project and fundraising was suspended in June 2011 by the DNR due to concerns regarding the scale, expense, lack of funds raised to meet the target and the visual impact of the design on the natural landscape, according to Settina.
"An alternative design concept was discussed with the volunteers and a new independent cost estimate was developed of $288,605," said Settina. "The revised cost estimate, however, was incomplete and was still under review by the Department's Engineering and Construction Division as of March 2012."
The DNR news release states that the mission and goals of the project were commendable and inspired.
"As a state agency, the department strives to support visionary ideas that move Maryland forward; however, we must also operate responsibly and within the confines of the law," the release said.
The Maryland Park Service is willing to work with the volunteer group to develop a plan to support alternative projects at Deep Creek Lake State Park, according to Settina.
"There are numerous project needs to improve public recreation facilities or restore natural and cultural resources within the state park that would benefit from funding support," said Settina.
Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, http://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html
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