Maryland Considers Expanding 'wilderness' Zones (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio


Should Mountain Bikers Be Allowed In Maryland's Expanded 'Wildlands?'


So, in that last story, Greg Nagy talked about the Meiere mosaics return to light and life. Well, this next story is all about the latter. Life, as in wildlife. In Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR is proposing the largest expansion of the state's wild land system since it was created in 1973. And as environment reporter Jonathan Wilson tells us, that proposal is ruffling more than a few feathers.


John F. Wilson has been with Maryland's Department of Natural Resources for the better part of three decades, so he should know just how big of a deal the agency's latest wild land expansion proposal really is.


It's a pretty big deal. In fact, the last time that we took a look at potential sites for wild lands was back in 2002. And I think this round is really looking at what I call the last great places in Maryland.


The wild lands are Maryland's version of the federal government's wilderness preservation system. Approved by the General Assembly, they can include unique ecological, geological, scenic and contemplative recreational areas. Right now, the system is comprised of nearly 44,000 acres in 15 counties. The new proposal would add 27,000 acres to that total, expanding 17 current wild lands, and creating 10 brand new wild land areas.


Once these areas are lost, we can't replace them, so I think, you know, in conserving these areas, I think what we have to do is look into the future and say, you know, 50 years from now, I think folks are gonna say, you know, they really did a good thing in protecting these areas. And we still have them for our own use and enjoyment.


The new areas include 4,000 acres along the Youghiogheny River in western Maryland's Garrett County. DNR calls this the state's only "wild" river. 26 different rare, threatened or endangered species call the river home. Among them, the green salamander and the hellbender, the largest salamander in North America. In Calvert County, a proposed area in Parkers Creek is home to four globally rare insect species, including the Puritan Tiger Beetle.


All these sites contain either rare or vanishing plants or animals, or both.


Not many people get more enjoyment from Maryland's crop of forested trails than mountain bikers like Todd Bauer. Bauer is the Advocacy Director for Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, or MORE, a mountain biking club. He says expanding the state's share of wild lands is a good thing.


Anytime you can expand and preserve tracts of land, that's what we're all about. We're all about conservation and preservation of the natural lands, and especially areas where people might recreate. So, anytime you can expand upon that, you know, we completely support those initiatives.


But there is one problem, at least from Bauer's point of view. Since 1995, mountain bikers have been prohibited from riding in Maryland wild lands. DNR's John Wilson explains.


Basically, in a wild land, you can hunt, you can kayak, you can raft, you can canoe, you can fish, you can trap.


You can also hike, run and even ride a horse on the trails.


It's just, one of the things prohibited is mechanical conveyance, I.e. a motorized vehicle or the other thing that falls under that is mountain bikes.


Todd Bauer says the state's contingent of mountain bikers would love to throw its full support behind DNR's wild land expansion plan, if the state reverses its prohibition on mountain bikes, which Bauer says, don't do any more damage to trails than horses. But Bauer and other mountain biking advocates have been making the same argument to DNR for years.


They're resistance is is that both hikers and equestrians, horses, have been around since colonial times. Unfortunately, we're not in the colonial times any longer. This is a modern society.


Wilson says he might be more sympathetic to mountain bikers concerns about the wild lands if the state didn't already have more than 1,000 miles of trails available to mountain bikes.


But more importantly, like I've told them, is we are developing new mountain bike trails. In fact, we are developing new mountain bike trails out of Deep Creek Lake State Park, we're developing a stacked loop system that will connect Harrington Manor with Swallow Falls State Park, and we're going to continue to look for new mountain bike opportunities, just not in these areas.


Wilson also says that mountain biking wouldn't even really be possible, in most of the proposed expansion areas because it's either too steep or too wet. DNR is accepting online comments about the proposed areas until December 9th. After that, it will be up to the legislature to make the final decisions. I'm Jonathan Wilson.


We have more information about Maryland's proposed wild land areas on our website, And if you have an opinion about this proposal, let us know. Our email is
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