Wicomico’s Public Park Plans Move Ahead

SALISBURY – Less than a month after accepting a $820,000 federal grant to develop a public park, the Wicomico County Council on Tuesday agreed to transfer $254,758 to match funding for the project.

In October, County Executive Bob Culver announced the county had received an $820,000 matching grant from the National Park Service through the Land and Water Conservation Fund to develop Pirate’s Wharf, a 340-acre property the county purchased in 1997. County officials said the goal of developing Pirate’s Wharf is to provide trails, gathering space and water access to the Wicomico River.

After months of back-and-forth discussion, the council late last month voted to accept the grant and to increase the fiscal year 2019 general fund “pay-go” to $354,758 for the Pirate’s Wharf project.

Specifically, $100,000 in the CIP will be used to develop a master plan for the park, while $254,758 generated from hunting leases on the property will be used for the development of Pirate’s Wharf.

To that end, the council this week voted 6-1, with Council President John Cannon opposed, on a legislative bill to transfer the $254,758 from prior year funds to the fiscal year 2019 budget.

In an interview on Wednesday, Cannon said plans presented to the council did not justify spending $1.6 million – $820,000 from the federal grant and $820,000 in matching funds – on Pirate’s Wharf.

“My concern is the planning I’ve seen for the Pirate’s Wharf project,” he said. “To me it has very little substance. I’m concerned about the total cost of $1.6 million and the most I’ve seen from the planning process is walking trails, bird watching and the possibility of some type of boat ramp.”

While he recognized the park would have some benefit to residents of the nearby Whitehaven community, Cannon said the project lacked the necessary studies.

“I just can’t fathom spending $1.6 million for the project that’s been presented and the lack of detail I’ve seen,” he said. “No studies have been done whatsoever to prove it’s needed and or if county residents want it.”

Since receiving federal funding for the development of the park, officials have applied for state and local grants to help offset a majority of the county’s $820,000 obligation. It should be noted the county has also applied for $315,000 in Program Open Space funding and $200,000 in Waterway Improvement funding to compose the remainder of the match.

In a work session on Tuesday, Steve Miller, director of recreation, parks and tourism for Wicomico County, also presented the council with another grant opportunity to develop interpretive signs for Pirate’s Wharf.

“We applied for and received a grant in the amount of $2,934 from Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council,” he said, “and the purpose of that grant was for us to find a consultant to help us do the research and develop the story, as we are going to call it, for Pirate’s Wharf.”

Miller said the consultant is expected to do research on the origin of the property’s name and what activities happened at Pirate’s Wharf in the years before the county acquired the land.

“We don’t have the in-house expertise nor the time to do that research,” he said. “It’s very expensive.”

Miller said the information would be placed on interpretive signage along a trail system within the park.

“It’s giving an interpretation of what it is you are looking at or of the spot and its significance,” he said. “What we envision is there is a story to be told there and we’re still trying to determine what that is.”

Miller said the grant is expected to help develop the historical aspects of Pirate’s Wharf.

“It’s a matching grant,” he said. “We are not asking for additional funds. The funds that were transferred earlier in the meeting were sufficient to cover that.”

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.