September 18, 2020

Savage River Hunting Land Appears Useless To Hunters As State DNR Panders To Private Lodge Owners

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Hat Tip to Sid Turner and Rita Crowe!!

A second public meeting was held yesterday at the Grantsville Library in Grantsville, Maryland to discuss ways for Maryland residents to get back use of public lands around the Savage River area – Mount Aetna Track or Compartment 40. At this meeting, representatives of the Department of Natural Resources were on hand to answer questions and advise citizens. Those in attendance were, John F. Wilson – Deputy Director, Public Lands Policy & Planning DNR, Steve W. Koehn – Director/State Forester, Maryland DNR Forest Service, Ken Jolly – Associate Director of Field Operations, Forest Service, Larry Maxim – Forest Manager, Savage River State Forest, Officers Marple and Stafford – DNR Police.

Also present was Delegate George Edwards representing his constituancy and the state of Maryland.

Before I get into issues that were discussed at this meeting, I have to say that this is the most ludicrous set of events that have happened to the citizens of Maryland. They have been robbed unknowingly because of extremely poor decision making on the part of the Department of Natural Resources all for the purpose of pandering to a private land owner. The actions undertaken by the DNR of Maryland on this issue are a clear example of what can happen when too much authority is granted any one individual or group of individuals. We as individuals have to pay closer attention to what those in authority are doing with your tax money, in this case your public lands.

From the information I am receiving from individuals like Sid Turner who have walked the land in question, it appears that little, if any, of the 640 total acres of land in the Mt. Aetna Track is usable for hunting because of agreements made between DNR and Savage River Lodge owner Michael Dreisbach.

Let’s back up for a moment and let me make a clarification that was brought to my attention by Sid Turner, concerned citizen for the future of these public lands. I had stated in my article yesterday that Dreisbach had purchased the land for his lodge from the state. According to Turner, Dreisbach purchased the land from a previous owner who couldn’t get permission from the DNR to do many of the things the new owner has been able to do.

the lodge land was not purchased from the state but was purchased from an individual. that person could not seem to get the state to give him a permit to build a bridge or a wider right-of-way across state land so he sold the land to the new lodge owners. low and behold a year or 2 later the new lodge owners had the permit for the new bridge across savage river and a new 30/40′ right-of-way across state land!

If this is true, then it would be interesting to try and figure out what connections Dreisbach had to get the necessary permits, etc.

Maryland state law says that it is illegal to discharge a firearm without 150 yards of a structure. Because of this existing law, which certainly is not unreasonable, hunters have to remain 150 yards away from the Savage River Lodge, the 18 cabins and the house that sits nearby. People are complaining that this 150 yards (450 feet) has grown considerably by the lodge owner posting land outside the boundaries of his own land.

But the issue becomes more bizarre. Dreisbach was able to reach an agreement with DNR to construct/maintain trails throughout a great deal of the public lands that his property abutts. In that agreement, the DNR granted Dreisbach a 150-yard safety zone around any and all trails that Dreisbach maintains for his lodge guests. Once again I remind you that this is all on public lands owned by Maryland taxpayers. Included in this agreement about maintaining trails is permission for Dreisbach to cut firewood in exchange for his work of maintaining the trails. People have complained that unless you are a guest you cannot use these trails without first paying Dreisbach a $5.00 user fee.

At yesterday’s meeting, here’s what Sid Turner had to say about what those trails and the buffer zone has done to the entire parcel.

“If you look at the map, you’ll see that SRL was allowed to encircle the mountain – twice – with trails. This allows them to control the use of the entire mountain, although it is State property.”

Turner also says that when he and others walked the property, he found signs (I would assume he meant no hunting or no trespassing signs) as much as 690 feet from the trail. For clarification: If Dreisbach has a 150-yard buffer from the trail, that means 150 yards on either side, totalling 300 yards or 900 feet. Loops or zig zags of trails strategically placed throughout 640 acres could easily render the land completely unhuntable.

For whatever the reason(s) Maryland DNR personel has given the owners of the Savage River Lodge free reign over the Mt. Aetna Track, the fact is the public is being run off the property and it appears DNR is doing very little to change that. DNR claims they are looking out for the safety of everyone in granting this buffer safety zone around the trail yet they don’t grant such buffers at other public lands that have trails on them. So what makes this case different?

Hunters want to get on this land to hunt this deer season, which is already underway, but it doesn’t appear that this is going to happen. There are some issues at the access road that look like they will be addressed soon but as far as the safety issue around the hiking trails, DNR says that won’t change until at least next year.

DNR has established these “Safety Zones” to see how it works during this hunting season, will then evaluate and then consider removing them.

And the DNR says they can’t address the agreement that exists about the trails.

“In essence, there was a pre-existing agreement between the owner and the Department. We can’t address that [as it was entered into by another department].

We will be taking a look at that agreement, re-evaluating it and deciding whether the agreement should be changed.

The group of citizens that gathered are becoming frustrated and are not sure where to go from here. Perhaps the best thing they have going for them at present is the support of Del. George Edwards. He sat quietly through much of the meeting and then addressed the group including the DNR.

“I am irritated that Mike Slatterley (Assistant Director of DNR) is not here today. He should have been here, as he’s been involved in the past. You can tell him that I’m irritated, and I will also let him know. It was after a meeting with Mike Slatterley and Mike Dreisbach in Annapolis – which I wasn’t aware of – that the signs went up.”

I received a letter from the Savage River Forest Citizens Advisory Board, and I will read a part to you: “…we neither approved nor disapproved the actions re: signs. We were informed of the actions taken at our Spring (April 2006) meeting…”
There should have been a public meeting about this. Or the Citizens Advisory Board meeting should be advertised in the newspaper.

I’ve been told that the signs are there because of SRL’s concern for liability issues. If the State is willing to take responsibility, then take the signs down.

“I want to see where 150 yards from the occupied buildings is, and see how this jives with what you have their now.”
“I want to see the difference on a map.”

“This situation may be unique, but I want you to go back to what’s in the guidelines, which is 150 yards from occupied structures, not a trail.”

“Do we have this kind of Safety Zone posted at the Savage River Hiking Trail, which gets a lot of hiking use?”

No, sir.

“We don’t have signs on New Germany Road + State Park either.”

Return to the Rulebook Guidelines, 150 yards from an occupied structure, which in the case of SRL would include the house the owners live in, the Lodge, and the 18 cabins.

“As for the parking lot, you tell us 18 months to get funding, but I also know that you can do thin[g]s faster. You have the authority to work faster.”

“You have got to have a place for them (the hunters, the public users) to turn around and park. This would not be a big expense, as it is relatively flat up there.”

“I want this to get settled, so people here can get on to supporting other important issues.”

Public lands are for the use of the citizens of that state. These lands are bought and paid for with tax dollars and should be managed in a way that completely preserves the best interests of the public. I can think of no legitimate reasons why the Maryland DNR should grant this or any other private landowner the permissions they have been given in order to profit from their business at the expense of others.

It is not uncommon for parcels of private land to be found surrounded by larger tracts of lands. Sometimes these lands are parks, state and national forests and in this case public lands. Laws allow for the access to those lands. It is also not uncommon for states to grant permits for a private landowner to build a bridge across a stream to gain access and to build a road. It is uncommon for the state to pay for that and then gate it and not allow the public use. It is even a fairly common practice to grant or allow the construction of trails, whether hiking, atv riding or snowmobiling, across public lands. Many different kinds of agreements have been reached in states all across America. I would question whether any match the one in question here.

In Maryland, lawmakers have determined that 150 yards from a dwelling or structure is a sufficient safety zone in which hunters are not allowed to discharge a firearm. During the hunting season everyone, including hikers, need to understand that at certain amount of risk, although extremely minimal, exists when entering the woods during that time. Had this trail been a direct route used by many people to get from one point to another, I could concur that a safety zone should be set up. This buffer has been created for the Savage River Lodge users only. What is completely ridiculous is the fact that guest of the lodge come their to hunt. They now have their own private preserve complete with trails to walk on in which to hunt.

One can only conclude that somebody knew somebody when permits and agreements were made between the DNR and the Savage River Lodge.

Tom Remington

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