Council Hears Update On Proposed Eco-Park in WOC

OCEAN CITY – Plans for the Ayres Creek water trail and landing park are moving along smoothly, reported organizers this week, as they sought approval from the Mayor and City Council to move forward with a partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Jim Rapp, director of Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE), presented the Mayor and City Council with an update on the proposed eco-park project this week, citing potential assistance and funding that could be garnered from DNR.

Rapp presented the Mayor and Council with the conceptual idea of an eco-park at Lewis Road along the banks of Ayers Creek earlier this year, pointing out a relatively untapped resource in the resort area, nature-based tourism.

The 37-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 kayaks.

The idea of the eco-park was pitched to the Mayor and Council as “adventure with a coat check,” a concept that could add an eco-tourism aspect to the resort.

According to Rapp, 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.

The council gave unanimous support to the concept earlier this year, giving permission for the use of the 37-acre, town-owned land that once served as the town landfill.

Rapp explained this week that through working relationships with DNR, Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Assateague Coastal Trust and other organizations, they hope to continue with the creation of the paddling opportunity.

“It’s a great access point to the very scenic Ayres Creek,” he said.

Paddlers would have the opportunity to launch from a “soft landing” point, and take advantage of the unique water trails that would guide them through Ayres Creek and Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays.

Rapp sought permission from the Mayor and Council this week to send a letter to DNR to request its assistance in the project.

At this stage, a conceptual plan and water trail map and guide need to be created, explained Rapp.

The conceptual plan would include amenities and water access for canoes and kayaks. The water trail map and guide would work to guide paddlers through the area as well as give them a better sense of the eco-park.

Wetlands restoration is also a priority that will need to be addressed at some point, said Rapp.

Rapp explained that with the town’s approval to send the letter to DNR, the agencies could move forward with DNR soon, as money is already budgeted through DNR for this fiscal year.

Rapp added that both the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce have shown interest in the project.

“We want to give more options for people on vacation,” said Dave Wilson, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.