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Deep Creek forest canopy project shelved

SWANTON — The forest canopy walkway project at the Discovery Center located at Deep Creek Lake State Park has been scuttled it does not meet the accessibility needs for individuals with disabilities, according to the Maryland Park Service.

“The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has concluded that it is not practical to build an observation tower of 70 to 80 feet in height with an external elevator,” Nita Settina, superintendent of the agency, said in an email.

It was determined by the DNR Engineering and Construction Division in consultation with the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, Maryland Department of Disabilities and the U.S. Access Board that the walkway was not in accordance with the 2010 Standard for Accessible Design, which became mandatory last week, according to Settina.

Money spent on the design and engineering studies for the walkway will not be returned, according to Settina.

The “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 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,” a DNR news release said. “We understand the disappointment that many feel regarding the decision to discontinue fundraising and development of this laudable project.”

The project and fundraising were 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,” she said. “The revised cost estimate, however, was incomplete and was still under review by the Department’s Engineering and Construction Division as of March 2012.”

This story originally appeared in The Cumberland Times-News.

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