September 24, 2020

Savage River Hunting Land Up For Debate

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On Sunday nearly 140 concerned citizens attended a meeting at the Avilton Community Center to ask questions and get information about what can be done to get their land back. Representatives of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were expected to attend this meeting but according to the Cumberland Times reporter Maria Smith, nobody showed. Present though was Maryland Delegate George Edwards, who recently was elected to the Senate and will take up that position in January. Edwards spoke in support of the group of citizens who want the state to do something about public lands that seem to be disappearing in the Savage River area.

At issue is land sold by the state to private owners, Michael Dreisbach and his wife Janis Russell. They purchased from the state land which now comprises 42 acres in Garrett County, smack dab in the middle of 640 acres of public lands called the Mount Aetna Tract or Compartment 40. The owners have built their dream lodge consisting of a lodge, 18 cabins and a house. It is named Savage River Lodge.

Why this was allowed to be sold by the state to Dreisbach and Russell is unknown to me but for whatever reason or reasons, it appears that this may have been a big mistake. As I understand the story, the state constructed a road through the public lands for access to Savage River Lodge. Over time the owners of the lodge have posted signs at the entrance to the lands prohibiting parking, trespass, guns, hunting, shooting, you name it the owners of Savage River Lodge have attempted to keep other hunters and recreationists out.Gateway Entrance to Savage River Lodge

According to Sid Turner, one of those concerned citizens who attended the meeting and gave me the heads-up on this story and sent pictures, not only have they posted their land around the lodge but have taken the liberty of posting much of the public lands as well. It must be pointed out to readers that guests of the lodge hunt the lands as well as enjoy hiking and other outdoor interests.
Sid Turner

Those in attendance of the meeting on Sunday aren’t disputing the lodge owner’s right to post their land, what they are protesting is the lodge owner posting public lands they don’t own, such as the land around their lodge and the roadway leading to it.

Jeff Connor, one of those who helped get the meeting together, described the activities on the land this way.
Jeff Connor

the owners of Savage River Lodge have “No Hunting No Weapons signs laced around the outskirts” of their property, which lies within the Savage River Forest.

The signs, which were to have been removed by now, are posted around his premises, a hiking trail and the road that leads to the lodge and are the only such signs in the state.

“It’s taking up a lot of the state forest we’re hunting on,” Connor said. “Some say we’re being run off.”

Lodge Guest Only

Sid Turner says that the lodge is slowly but surely taking over the entire 640 acre public parcel. He says that the state has paid for the construction of the road to the lodge and has built hiking trails connecting to the lodge specifically for lodge guests to use. He doesn’t think this is right.

the state gave them and built them a road to access the property. since then the lodge has been slowly taking control of the 640 acre tract of state hunting land. they have enlarged their property by placing a safety zone around it and now they have convinced some state officials to post state land for their lodge guest to use. the state has also provided labor to cut trails, build bridges, etc… so the lodge guest have a pretty trail to use.

Many of the signs in question have been put up by the Maryland DNR, or one would only assume being that the signs are official looking with MDNR printed on them.
Weapons Prohibited

Also at issue is the fact that the lodge owners charge non-lodge guests $5.00 to use the trails on state land. According to Del. George Edwards, they can do that but a percentage has to be turned back over to the state.

state law says Garrett County is to receive 25 percent of all revenue generated from state land. The same is true for each county that has state land within its borders.

“By law, he can charge but the state and county should get their money,” he said. “At this point, there’s been none (received).”

Edwards assured those in attendance that things would change and that signs would be taken down and put where they belong.

Edwards assured those in attendance that he hears them “loud and clear” and is on their side. He said he’s told Dreisbach that this is “not his private little park” and that as public space, it needs to be open to all. He also reminded him that a number of adjoining property owners had hunted there long before he arrived.

“You will see some changes,” he said, adding the signs never should have stated what they do now. “You will see signs moved to where they ought to be.”

Edwards, who already has called for the removal of the bright, yellow signs, wasn’t sure if they would be moved in time for Saturday’s opening day.

Sid Turner asked those at the meeting to obey the signs even if they don’t agree with them.

Turner, however, encouraged the hunters to “take the high road and do the right thing.” If the signs that state “No Hunting No Weapons” are still up, abide by them, he said.

There will another meeting to discuss the same issues at 1:00 P.M today at the Grantsville Library. It is hoped that representatives of the DNR will attend.

Tom Remington

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