Advocates challenge council on possible land donation

Conservationists eager to save forest and scenic trails off Naylor Mill Road are urging city leaders and residents to visit the trails and their natural setting.

Joan Maloof, an outspoken advocate of preserving the 35 acres the county wants from the city, to build softball fields, has urged touring the area.  She promised the beauty of fungus diversity, insects, birds and clean air.

“Please, before you make a vote, experience the trails,” she asked City Council members at a recent meeting. They will decide whether or not to give the land to Wicomico County amid concern about contaminating the Paleochannel, an underground water source there.

“Water quality is important to everyone, which is why we added stipulations in our discussions with the county,” City Council President Jake Day said.

“Anything that does move forward with the county, it would be a situation where the trails would be protected and the Paleochannel would be protected. I don’t think we are comfortable moving forward if those two things aren’t protected,” he said.

City officials were told the city will realize $20 million in tourism dollars from softball tournaments if the fields are built, but that amount is a small portion of the total tourism budget, Day said.

“Don’t let anybody tell you it is all tourism. It is just a part of that. I don’t think we’re in as much of a rush as our friends in the county say we are,” he said.

He said he’d like to see a public meeting during which county officials hear residents’ concerns.

Maloof wants City Council members to educate themselves and not just take the word of public works employees who insist construction there is safe. She urged them to read a hydrogeology document and hire another expert. She said the first expert they talked to, Mark Eisner, didn’t know the answer to certain questions and seemed to concentrate on being the low bidder.

Trent Swanson, who bikes and runs, said softballs fields can be built be built elsewhere because Naylor Mill is one of the few places trails can be enjoyed, he

“I need a place where I can feel safe … and on these trails, the trails we do have, there is soft ground instead of hard ground. You’re less likely to get injured. I plan to live here as long as I can. This is one thing that’s keeping me around, the beautiful trails,” he said.

Sarah Halcott, a candidate for City Council, called the forest “an extremely valuable asset” and said the forest helps filter water that goes into the aquifer.

“I think it would be an absolute shame if we did transfer that land to the county,” she said.

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