OC Gives Support To Proposed County Eco-Park

–“Adventure with a coat check,” could become a new slogan for Ocean City
tourism as the concept of an eco-park gains strength and eco-tourism moves to
the forefront in the resort area.

The Ocean City Mayor and
City Council gave unanimous support to the concept of an eco-park this week,
shedding light on an under-utilized segment of tourism in the area –

Jim Rapp, director of
Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE), presented the Mayor and
Council with the conceptual idea of an eco-park at Lewis Road along the banks of Ayers Creek
this week, pointing out a relatively untapped resource in the resort area,
nature-based tourism.

“We are trying to bring
nature and jobs together,” Rapp said, as he painted a picture of a segment of
tourism that would combine the draw of Delmarva’s nature with the comforts of Ocean City’s
resort offerings.

Rapp noted a substantial
increase in nature-based tourism throughout the country over the past few

“We are seeing trends in
tourism surveys,” Rapp said.

According to Rapp, in
2006, 87 million Americans pursued outdoor recreation, $120 billion was spent
on travel and equipment and 162 million paddling trips were made across the
nation in 2005. Locally, nature-based tourism has grown, not only on Delmarva,
but within Worcester
County as well. The Great
Delmarva Bicycling Trail, Seagull Century, Delmarva Birding Trail, Routes of
John Smith’s Voyages and Exploration, and Delmarva Birding Weekend, which
accounts for an average spending of $246 per person, are just a few eco-tourism
events that bring visitors to the area. More recent additions such as the Smith
Island Water Trail and the Delmarva
Discovery Center,
are aiming to build on nature-based tourism as well.

Rapp presented the Mayor
and Council with the conceptual stages of a proposal that calls for a water
trail and eco-park at Ayers Landing and Lewis Road. The site, which was formally
used as a dump, has been undergoing a facelift of sorts for the past few years
and, according to Rapp, would be the ideal location for a “living” shoreline
and launching point for a water trail.

The 42-acre park is home
to a variety of species of waterfowl, birds and raptors and has the potential
to draw visitors and to work as an active “soft” landing access for canoes and

The idea of “adventure
with a coat check” would be ideal for Ocean City,
Rapp said, explaining that studies are showing that an increasing number of
people, more specifically baby boomers, are looking for a day full of adventure
followed by a hot shower, a nice dinner and a comfy bed. The idea is to create
a relationship between the amenities of Ocean City’s
hotels and restaurants and the close proximity of the area’s nature in an
effort to create a strong following of nature-based tourists.

Hal Adkins, Public Works
Director, and Dick Malone, Senior Project Manager, were present at the council
meeting to give their input on the future use of the site that they have been
working for years to clean up.

“In the 11 plus years
that I, and Dick, have been working on the site, we have been focusing on
clean-up issues,” Adkins said, noting that a prospective use for the site has
never been addressed.

According to Adkins, they
hope to be done with the administrative efforts between Public Works and the
Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) within the next two months, which
would essentially conclude their work with the site.

Malone added that, in
his opinion, MDE would view the proposal as a favorable use of the site.

Councilwoman Nancy
Howard suggested that the land be deeded to DLITE, under the condition that the
site remains as a “soft” landing spot and eco-park. Howard suggested that the
town mirror past situations, such as with the deeding of the library land to
the county, in which the town deeded land for an intended use, with the
understanding that the land revert back to the town in the event the use
changes. City Solicitor Guy Ayres agreed that a similar deal with DLITE could
be made over the land.

Councilman Jay Hancock
gave his approval of the proposed use of the site, noting that it would
contribute to the “More Fun Here,” concept that Ocean City
currently pitches to its visitors.

“I think this is just an
ideal addition to that inventory. I personally would like to see the Town of
Ocean City involved in this,” said Hancock.

Hancock also noted the
green aspects of eco-tourism.

“This is relatively,
almost silent tourism. It’s virtually non-polluting, other than the Volvos that
would drive out there and unload,” he said.

“I’m really favor of
this too,” said Council member Margaret Pillas.

Councilwoman Mary
Knight, agreed, saying, “I just think this is perfect timing.”

Mayor Rick Meehan
suggested Rapp return to the Mayor and Council with a site plan to allow
officials a better look at DLITE’s vision for the property.

“I’m thrilled that we’re
moving in this direction,” said Meehan.

The council voted
unanimously, with Councilman Jim Hall absent, to approve the concept of the
eco-park. Rapp agreed to work on design work and funding as Public Works wraps
up their work on the site.