Closing a road less traveled

County calls for abandoning Phillips Gunning Club Road

CROCHERON – You would think that the County Council proposing the closure of a lonely, little-used gravel road in this community wouldn’t cause too much of a stir, but it has. County Council drafted a bill calling for the closure of 6274 feet of the Phillips Gunning Club Road, all of the dirt portion of it from the outskirts of the town of Crocheron to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Karen Noonan Memorial Environmental Education Center out at Bishop’s Head Point. Since the day the bill (#2014-10) was published a small but passionate group of people have been scrambling to keep it open.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Two fishermen ply the bay for stripers on Phillips Gunning Club Road on Bishop’s Head. This is the worst section of road, in need of a new cross pipe, resurfacing and riprap. The County wants to abandon the road, and save highway funds for busier routes.

“We have a lot of people opposed to the closing,” says local resident Tim Robinson. “There’s a lot of sightseeing goes on down there, it’s a beautiful place. We don’t want to lose it.”
To the county, it’s a matter of money available, plain and simple. “We’re acknowledging the fact that were four million dollars short in highway user revenue funds,” said County Councilman Rick Price, after the recent public Council meeting. “They (Annapolis) took 90 percent out of our state highway user revenue funds, that was 4 million dollars. We need to find places where we can shift maintenance to roads that are more heavily traveled or have more houses on them. We’re not trying to slight the local road users or anybody,” said Price, stating that it’s just a matter of finding the best places to use the county’s limited highway funds.
The Phillips Gunning Club Road leaves Crocheron Road at the turn into town. The first part of it is paved, but the last 6000+ feet is gravel and potholes, and occasionally water-covered. The worst part of the road is up against the Bay, in desperate need of a new cross-pipe and rip-rapping.
The road ends at the Karen Noonan Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s docks. The Center building began life as a waterman’s house in 1870, and in 1930 the Phillips Canning Company bought the property for a hunting club; hence the name of the road. The large main house shows signs of multiple renovations over the years. There I also a smaller “manager’s house” that appears more original. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation acquired the property and renovated the buildings in 1995 to house a residential educational center.
“We can fish from the road there still, but we’re not allowed to walk out on the land now,” said Robinson. “To me it’s a shame, because our tax dollars bought that land, then the same people who took the tax dollars to buy the land say that we can’t go onto it any more. We can still fish from the road because it’s a county road, we’re allowed to be there.”
“I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, and I’ve been bringing my kids to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation,” said Laura Morris, at the recent meeting. “Probably over 400 kids have gone down that road by bus. To close that road would be a shame for the kids and what they’ve learned. To not take care of that road would be a harm to all the students who have been down there.”
I would love to see you all come down and experience this place,” said Jesse Morris, works at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “When the kids come down here from the schools, we take their cell phones away. We get them out of the video game, out of the phone and out onto the water, out into the marsh, and they see a different world. Many of them come back to do what we do, to be an environmental educator. It’s a powerful thing; we need that road, and I’m sure we can find a way to help keep it open.”
“We have all these county roads out here, and the Public Works department is trying to assess where, if at all, to shift and re-prioritize where we’re doing the most road maintenance with the money we have,” said Councilman Price in a phone interview with The Banner.
“We’re doing our level best and sometimes struggling to keep going what we have going. There’s really no new money coming in and costs are increasing. We have the largest land area and road area of any county in the state, and with less coming in we have to reassess where we’re spending our highway funds. That $4 million was cut in the first term of the O’Malley administration—90 percent for every county, for us it equaled out to $4 million.”
The general consensus is that it would cost around $500,000 to correct the erosion problems, replace the culverts and repair the road surface, money that the county has to try to stretch to cover all of Dorchester County.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Another stretch of Phillips Gunning Club Road, still wet from the high tide earlier.

“We still have the roads,” Price said. “We may have less money to keep them up, but we still have the maintenance to do.”
At the meeting, Robinson submitted a petition signed by over 100 local residents asking that the road be kept open. Alan Girard, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, asked for time for the Foundation to possibly come up with a solution to help maintain the road.
“The five of us (County Council members) in trying to come up with alternative ways to maintain the roads may not see it exactly the way they see it, until they come before us and tell us, and give us their side of it,” said Price.
The meeting went well, with no heat on either side of the discussion, and closed with County Council agreeing to table the issue for 30 days, until the September 16 meeting, to allow time for exploration of possible solutions to the road problem.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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