Pirate’s Wharf Park Proposal Discussed In Wicomico

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County met last week to discuss federal, state and local funding opportunities for the development of a park.

In an open work session last Tuesday, county staff presented the Wicomico County Council with plans for the development of the county-owned property known as Pirate’s Wharf.

Early this month, Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver announced the county had received a $820,000 grant from the National Parks Service through the Land and Water Conservation Fund for future development of Pirate’s Wharf.

The county purchased the 340-acre property – located along the Wicomico River – in 1997, and, to date, has not developed the property for public use. County officials said the goal of developing Pirate’s Wharf is to establish a boat ramp for fishing, kayaking and other small water vessels and to create a trail system, interpretive signs and other low-impact activities.

On the agenda for discussion last week, Steve Miller, the county’s director of recreation, parks and tourism, told the council Wicomico was one of two counties in Maryland to receive the federal grant.

“We received, by far, the largest grant award, so both the state and federal folks felt that this was a very worthwhile project that hit some of their key targets …,” he said. “The work group felt strongly the park should not be overdeveloped.”

Miller told the council the grant would require a 50/50 match from the county, but added that staff had applied for state grants to help offset a majority of the county’s $820,000 obligation.

“We have applied for $315,000 through Program Open Space, which we have in our unencumbered balance with the state through that program,” he said. “We’ve also applied for $200,000 through Waterway Improvement funding, which is also a state grant.”

Miller said the remaining $305,000 in matching funds would come from money already in the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the recreation and parks fund balance.

“The council had approved in last year’s CIP $100,000 to pursue a master plan, so that would be included as part of this project. That’s money we’ve already got,” he said, “and we are requesting a transfer of funds of $254,000 from the rec and parks reserve.”

If approved, Miller said the county would have more than $1.6 million to develop the property without needing additional funds.

Councilman Joe Holloway said he was pleased to see something being done with the property, but said he was still concerned about some of the funding aspects of the project.

“I do worry about the issue of us having to match this,” he said. “That’s a concern, I think.”

Councilman Marc Kilmer said he didn’t understand how the council would be able to spend $1.6 million at Pirate’s Wharf.

“How are you going to spend $1.6 million …?” he said. “It seems like a lot of money for low impact.”

Pam Oland, the county’s deputy director of recreation, parks and tourism, told the council much of the money would be used to stabilize the shoreline, develop usable roads and pathways, build a boat ramp and more.

“The biggest expenses are going to be your infrastructure costs …,” she said. “When you are basically starting from raw land, it’s going to go quicker that we would probably like.”

Miller added that the $1.6 million would also include the cost for an environmental assessment and master plan, which would be completed between now and June.

“There will be an opportunity for the public to respond to what is bring proposed,” he said. “There will probably be a couple of options as to what we would do.”

Joan Maloof, a Worcester County resident who lived on the Pirate’s Wharf property for 30 years, told the county council last week she supported the county’s acceptance of the grant to develop the park, but did not agree with any plans that would remove trees from the forested section of the property.

“The way the forest is represented in the grant application is inaccurate and it has never been open for discussion by general residents,” she said. “… We are concerned because the Forest Stewardship Plan is completely inaccurate. There is no evidence to support the statements about forest decline.”

As executive director of the Old-Growth Forest Network and representative for the Friends of the Forest Salisbury group, Maloof said she would advocate for the preservation of the forest.

“We ask that there be public hearing before any actions are taken in the forest,” she said. “We are opposed to any logging or thinning of the forest. However, we are in favor of recreational trails through the forest and we recognize that some cutting of trees will have to be done to create those recreational trails.”

Wicomico County resident Donald Ross agreed.

“We should be setting a trend here rather than bucking it …,” he said. “I do support the grant. I don’t want to see the woods cut down.”

Some members of the council told county staff last week they were concerned that most residents knew nothing of the county’s plans for the property and its efforts to secure a matching grant. Kilmer encouraged county staff to involve the public more in the planning process.

“I think a lot of people were surprised that there was a working group and things like that,” he said. “People that were actively following this didn’t seem to know anything about it.”

Councilman Larry Dodd also questioned if the council was aware that the county was seeking a matching grant.

“It would have been nice, so we could start preparing and thinking about this,” he said.

Some members of the council added they were hesitant to commit to the matching grant without having a better understanding of how the park would be developed. They noted that conceptual plans would not be finished until February.

Wayne Strausburg, the county’s director of administration, argued that the county could chose to reject the grant.

“We are asking you if you want to take advantage of that opportunity or not,” he said. “If you do, let’s take advantage of it. If you don’t, we’ll just move on. That’s really where we are.”

With no further discussion, the council agreed to place the county’s requests on next month’s meeting agenda.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.