Gar­rett Is­land ac­cess may in­crease un­der new plan

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— Gar­rett Is­land may soon change which fed­eral agency gov­erns its well­be­ing, and that could lead to greater pub­lic ac­cess to the prop­erty that was once a haven to lo­cal boaters.

Al­ready Per­ryville, Port De­posit and Har­ford County have signed let­ters of sup­port to move the 200-acre is­land in the Susquehanna River from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice to the gov­er­nance of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

“Ce­cil County has in­tro­duced it and Havre de Grace will be in­tro­duc­ing (the sup­port mea­sure) soon,” added Mary Ann Lisanti, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lower Susquehanna Her­itage Green­way.

How­ever U.S. Fish and Wildlife plans to fight it.

Kyla Hastie, FWS as­sis­tant re­gional di­rec­tor of ex­ter­nal af­fairs, said there is no sup­port for the trans­fer in her agency.

“We have hired a new man­ager for our Ch­e­sa­peake Marsh­lands Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Com­plex, which man­ages Gar­rett Is­land, who starts in July,” Hastie said via email Tues­day. “It will be a high pri­or­ity for her to meet with lo­cal, state and non­profit part­ners to hear their in­ter­ests and dis­cuss op­tions for pub­lic ac­cess.”

Hastie said Tues­day af­ter­noon that “a trans­fer to Na­tional Park Ser­vice doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean more pub­lic ac­cess to the is­land.”

“We want to work with NPS and the lo­cal com­mu­nity too look at op­por­tu­ni­ties that best suit ev­ery­one,” Hastie said. She de­ferred any ad­di­tional com­ments un­til the new man­ager was in place next month.

Mean­while work con­tin­ues to­ward the trans­fer.

Jody Couser, spokes­woman for The Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy, said such a move would hap­pen leg­isla­tively.

“The process for such a trans­fer is set by the Game Range Act, which re­quires an Act of Congress for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice to trans­fer land to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice,” Couser said via email. “A mem­ber of Mary­land’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion would need to in­tro­duce a bill, and once passed by both the House and Se­nate, the pres­i­dent would need to sign the bill for it to be­come law. It’s a process sim­i­lar to any other leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced in Congress, but with strong com­mu­nity sup­port like we see here, it can hap­pen.”

The is­land is rich with wildlife, but be­cause of years of camp­ing and other vis­i­tors be­fore the ac­cess was shut­tered, some of the relics are gone or dam­aged. His­to­ri­ans say the is­land was vis­ited by the first Euro­peans to land here, that it had trad­ing posts and other hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

Fol­low­ing pri­vate attempts to pro­tect the is­land from de­vel­op­ment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice as­sumed con­trol of Gar­rett Is­land in 2004 and deemed it off lim­its to the pub­lic in 2005, although it took three more years for that rule to be en­forced.

PER­RYVILLE

Pub­lic out­cry in re­sponse to the ban led to limited ac­cess only on the sandy shore where boaters’ con­gre­gate. Still, the USFWS’ of­fices are hun­dreds of miles away in Dorch­ester County’s Black­wa­ter Na­tional Wildlife Refuge so en­force­ment was left to Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mar­garet Bar­row was one of those whose voice was heard in the ef­fort to main­tain ac­cess to the is­land. She launched a pe­ti­tion cam­paign that even­tu­ally re­sulted in that limited ac­cess to one side of the is­land.

“To open it up for pub­lic use would be such an as­set,” Bar­row said Tues­day. “It would en­cour­age peo­ple to visit this area. It can be a des­ti­na­tion.” Couser agreed. “What ap­peals to us about a trans­fer to NPS is in­creas­ing pub­lic ac­cess and cul­tural re­source in­ter­pre­ta­tion, so that more peo­ple can en­joy and ap­pre­ci­ate this spe­cial place. From what we are hear­ing from the lo­cal com­mu­nity lead­ers, this is more in line with what the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties would like to see hap­pen there,” she said.

A meet­ing next week with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (DMd.) will start the leg­isla­tive process, Lisanti said. Seven years ago dur­ing a visit to the is­land, how­ever, Cardin did not voice his sup­port of such a trans­fer and it re­mains to be seen if he has changed his mind.

The se­na­tor voiced his con­cern that the park ser­vice did not have enough per­son­nel to over­see the prop­erty and did not want po­ten­tial work on the is­land to be stymied by a drawn-out trans­fer process.

Lisanti said that once the trans­fer is com­plete, Gar­rett Is­land will be the first piece of prop­erty that the park ser­vice will hold ti­tle for through­out the Cap­tain John Smith Na­tional His­toric Wa­ter Trail.

“The di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice is ec­static,” Lisanti said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife lead­er­ship who she spoke to is also on board with the idea.

“For seven to eight years, they’ve been part­ner­ing with us for River Sweep,” she said, re­fer­ring to the an­nual April cleanup day de­voted to the wa­ter­front. “They’ve come to know us and that cred­i­bil­ity has gone a long way.”

The is­land could not only be part of the na­tional wa­ter trail, but also the LSHG trail and so much more, Lisanti said.

“To have a na­tional park sand­wiched in be­tween Ce­cil and Har­ford County, and at the mouth of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, is good for these ar­eas, good for these towns,” Lisanti said.

She en­vi­sions Per­ryville, Port De­posit and Havre de Grace fi­nally hav­ing a wa­ter taxi ser­vice to shut­tle vis­i­tors from shore to shore and a tourism boom with all its con­nected ben­e­fits. She said that for too long trav­el­ers have driven past these towns on Routes 40 and In­ter­state 95.

“Now the age old ques­tion is how do we get them to stop?” she said. “If we give them ac­cess to the wa­ter they’ll stop.”

Bar­row had one wish when the park ser­vice be­gins its plans for Gar­rett Is­land.

“It would be great if the main ac­cess to the is­land would be on the Per­ryville side,” she said.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

An an­gler drops his hook into the wa­ter off Gar­rett Is­land. The 200-acre is­land in the Susquehanna River may trans­fer its gov­er­nance from one fed­eral agency to an­other.

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