Volume 2 Issue 10 1994

Previously inaccessible archives from 1993-1997 now coming on-line, with more each week! Note that this is working copy (uncorrected text, no photos, including covers).

Railroad Ghosts Reflection
Chesapeake to Chiapas — Part II Who's Here
Comment Laughing Gourmet
Dock of the Bay Burton On The Bay
Editorial Bay Life
Letters To The Editor Diversions and Excursions

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Railroad Ghosts
byJames G. Gibb

Straight as an arrow, cutting through the thick woods of poplars and oaks is a road. It is long abandoned but still crisp in outline, if not in our memories. The path is no ordinary farm road. It is a railroad, unused and forgotten.

But which railroad? There were two in Calvert County. The better known Chesapeake Beach Railroad is memorialized in a museum operated by the Calvert County Historical Society and county government.

That railroad gets credit for creating a town.

“There’d be no town if not for the railroad,” says Harriet Stout, cheerful custodian of that railroad’s museum and memories.

“In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resorts like this were opening all over the country. What happened was that technology provided the means to go more than 10 miles away from home in an afternoon at the same time the middle class achieved discretionary time and money to spend on leisure.

“Something would have happened here eventually with the water so close to Washington, DC. But it wouldn’t have been Chesapeake Beach. The resort and railroad went hand in hand.”

The never completed Baltimore and Drum Point Railroad, on the other hand, is virtually forgotten.

Both roads promised significant changes for Calvert County and its people. Only one succeeded.

A Dream Collapses
The Baltimore and Drum Point Railroad, planned as early as 1868, was expected to run the length of Calvert County, extending the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad to Drum Point near Solomons. Those 34 miles would link Baltimore and the coal fields of western Maryland with a deep harbor that wouldn’t freeze in the winter. Because financial backing was hard to get, it took planners the next six years to grade five miles of track.

Construction began on a grand scale in 1888, with as many as 250 workers wielding axes, picks and shovels, and 100 teams of horses hauling plows, graders, and dump carts. To house all those men — and their horses — temporary shanties and stables were built. One camp was north of the village of Prince Frederick; the second was just off Route 2/4 in Port Republic, across the highway from today’s new farmers’ market.
By 1890, these workers had graded a 20-foot wide swath the full length of Calvert County, avoiding deep ravines. Smaller creeks were filled with soil, the streams channeled through masonry and timber culverts. Trestles as long as 600 feet and as tall as 50 feet crossed Hunting and Fishing Creeks. Workers erected telegraph poles inside the Baltimore and Drum Point Rail Road’s 66-foot right-of-way and stacked locally cut railroad ties in place, ready to receive 8,000 tons of steel rail purchased from the Pennsylvania Steel Company.

But the rails never arrived, and many of the ties were never paid for. By 1891, the Baltimore and Drum Point Rail Road was bankrupt. Promoters expected the City of Baltimore to raise a half million dollars. But that was expecting too much since Drum Point Harbor would have competed with Baltimore Harbor.

Anne Arundel County promised to raise $200,000, but many residents fought the bond sale and won on a technicality: the bond issue referendum was advertised for only 59 days rather than the requisite 60 days.

Even Calvert County, which had the most to gain from the completion of the railroad, reneged on its promise to raise $100,000. Payments were to be made in six installments for the successful grading of each section of five contiguous miles. But in May of 1888, county commissioners turned down the railroad’s request for the first installment.

In court, the county stalled, saying they could not find any evidence of the contract, because their documents were destroyed when the courthouse caught on fire in 1882. Lawyers representing Baltimore and Drum Point Rail Road had a copy of the contract as well as witnesses. Out of court, Calvert County agreed to pay its share when the line was complete.

Less than $400,000 was raised out of an estimated construction cost of $1.3 million.

Today, only abandoned portions of the graded right-of-way remain. If you look, you can find evidence of this dream behind Fox Run Plaza in Prince Frederick.

Chesapeake Beach Came by Rail
The Chesapeake Beach Railroad was far more successful. A passenger line, it carried tourists from Washington to a resort on the Bay. That resort, the Town of Chesapeake Beach, was chartered 100 years ago this year, when railroad interests purchased some 3000 acres along the Bay.

Developers dreamed of a Monte Carlo on the Bay; however, locals spurned the planned casino and race track. The resort developed instead as a comfortable place for family entertainment.

Construction began in October 1897, and the railroad opened in June of 1900. From today’s Seat Pleasant in Prince George’s County it ran to Chesapeake Beach through Upper Marlboro. Eventually, service was extended with city streetcars to downtown Washington near the U.S. Treasury Building at 15th and H Streets.

The 25-mile line was constructed with the same technology as the Baltimore Drum Point Railroad line — muscle, sweat, hand tools and, literally, horsepower. As many as 500 men and 250 teams of horses worked on the project at one time. A labor camp was set up at Friendship, near the Anne Arundel-Calvert border, a mile from the Bay.

Engineers planned a straight route with gentle grades. Inexpensive culverts and trestles spanned the smaller creeks, but getting past the Patuxent River, just south of Upper Marlboro, was no easy task. The Patuxent at this point was so wide and deep that the Weems Steamship steamed twice a week to the wharf at Bristol. The Chesapeake Beach Railroad could not block river traffic with a trestle.

Along came Youngstown Bridge Company to design a swingspan that turned 90 degrees on a fulcrum to let a vessel pass, then swung back into position. On the Patuxent River at Mount Calvert, you can still see the concrete and steel turntable in the river.

The first passenger train arrived at Chesapeake Beach on June 6, 1900, when the resort was still under construction.

The Chesapeake Beach Rail Road was well capitalized, but maintenance costs were too high for a railroad that operated primarily on a seasonal basis. Few years showed a profit, despite contracts with the postal service for delivering mail as well as freight traffic for farmers and local retailers.

Finally, the line succumbed to the Great Depression and debt. At noon on April 15, 1935, the last passenger train departed from the Chesapeake Beach terminal.

Done In By The Automobile?
Both railroads, first and foremost, were land development schemes. The promoters of the Baltimore and Drum Point Rail Road hoped to develop the southern end of Calvert County, taking advantage of its rich resources and inexpensive land. The Baltimore and Drum Point Rail Road needed private investment, but found few takers.

The Chesapeake Beach Rail Road took a different course. Land development was still at the heart of the matter, but here was no illusion of a harbor that could compete with Baltimore. The waters off Chesapeake Beach were too shallow for a harbor, and a long pier had to be constructed just to service passenger ferries.

Chesapeake Beach’s was to be a vacation paradise where winds blew cool off the beautiful Bay. Vacationers would stay to become homeowners and the area would thrive.

Harriet Stout, curator at the Chesapeake Beach Railroad Museum, recalls for visitors exuberant times when the roller coaster and the dance floor challenged the young at heart. Exhibits and photographs illuminate her story of an obscure spot along the Chesapeake that drew hundreds of thousands of vacationers from the sweltering cities of Baltimore and Washington.

Chesapeake Beach became a popular resort operating into the 1970s. But by the 1920s, most of its visitors arrived by automobile.

What Is And What Might Have Been
Along the Chesapeake Bay — as throughout America — railroads were the nation’s locomotives of change. Remembering them, you open your mind to the changes they brought.

Walking through the forests of Calvert County, you might find one of the abandoned railbeds, as I have. When you do, stand for a moment and think about the noise and smell of hundreds of men and horses digging through thousands of cubic yards of sand, gravel and clay; or of a steam locomotive pulling carloads of coal, tobacco or beaming tourists.

Imagine the Calvert County that might have been if the Baltimore and Drum Point Railroad had been completed, or if the Chesapeake Beach Railroad remained unfinished.

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Chesapeake to Chiapas — Part II
by Thomas Long

Our intrepid traveler and his trusty pick-up find themselves smack in the middle of the Mexican Revolution

(Ed. note — Journalist-adventurer Tom Long, a friend to many Baysiders, decided spur of the moment to cover the recent uprising in Southern Mexico. He quickly found himself in the midst of gunfire and travelling with a column of army tanks. Here is his latest installment.

CHIAPAS, Mexico — As I told you before, the best thing about covering Third World revolutionary wars is that you have good guys, bad guys and cheap shrimp.

But in modern Mexico, almost nothing is cheap — not even the tequila. And here, the good and bad weren’t so clearly defined. We didn’t necessarily want to be where we were just then, travelling with the army.

Nonetheless, we trailed them for about an hour, behind 25 tanks and a dozen trucks, stopping periodically while they cleared roadblocks put there by guerrillas.

On the outskirts of Altamirano, (pop. 10,000), the tank column stopped. There we were, lined up together — 25 green tanks and a red one, my GMC, which had started its journey in Anne Arundel County. I got out to inquire about the situation.

“We don’t know anything,” said one anxious soldier, and he was telling the truth. They were sent in from other states in Mexico for several reasons. An outside recruit is less likely to flinch when ordered to kill than a local boy who might know the victims. If, on the other hand, this soldier dies, it’s easier for the government to keep the official body count low by hiding the figures or inventing a story, so they don’t have to pay indemnity to the family.

Light tanks and brake pads
We headed into town to check things out with no comment, no protest from the soldiers, so we rolled on in. Until I felt a nasty lurch in the right front wheel and a horrifying screech of friction. I was certain that a wheel bearing was freezing up on me. There was no possibility of getting a new one, and I feared for the second time that we would be stuck out here.

I learned that an old mechanic lived near the town square. But when I knocked on the door and asked for don Jesus, his son said he wasn’t there and a shaking woman said, “no, please, don’t ask him to help.” They shut the door in my face.

Elsewhere, we learned that the guerrillas, such as they were, had pulled out of the town center the day before, after trashing the municipal building and sacking a few stores for food and supplies.

Jesus found us on his own, with quite a story. He had been held for a day by the rebels and forced at gunpoint to drive a supply run in his pick-up. We pulled the wheel off mine to find that the problem was my brake pad; it had disintegrated. So we cleaned it out, sealed off the brake line and agreed that I could get by with rear brakes — if there was a road out there to drive on.

First, we heard commotion. The army was finally moving in with light tanks and machine gun-mounted jeeps, escorted by a company of soldiers who were pegging themselves to the walls of buildings as they inched up the main street.

When they reached the park, soldiers dove into the shrubs, guns at the ready, pointing … at what? I found a young soldier lying at my feet. So I took a few photos and whispered to him: “Hey, there’s nothing here. The guerrillas bugged out 24 hours ago.”

We had gotten as much as we were going to get here; there wasn’t likely to be any fighting. So we headed out to see if we could make it to the town of Ocosingo. Pulling onto the paved road, we saw burned government cars and the spot where the bodies of two federales killed on the first day had lain until the dogs and vultures got them.

Don’t shoot, I’m a journalist!
Less than a mile down the road, we ran into a series of roadblocks fashioned from logs and rocks. We sensed the presence of someone or something on the other side and began calling out: “Prensa, prensa.” (Journalist, journalist.)

After several minutes, a single bright beacon shone on us and someone shouted, “Identify yourselves.”

We clambered through the thicket, arms held high in the air, saying in Spanish, “Journalists, don’t shoot.” It made me recall my ironic T-shirt from El Salvador that says the same thing, with a drawing of dozens of guns pointed at a cameraman. It didn’t work very well there. We lost more than 20 of our colleagues during that war and I was shot at more times than I can count.

One of the most frightening things about war is finding yourself among inexperienced combatants. Americans, with their hardware and technology and training, start killing everything that moves. In the last three military adventures — Grenada, Panama and Iraq — the majority of U.S. casualties were caused by what they call “friendly fire.”

I knew a couple of photographers who got gunned down in the middle of an empty Panama City parking lot by some decidedly unfriendly fire from U.S. Marines. No one should get anywhere near them.

“Don’t move a muscle,” screamed the lead tank-gunner.

Okay, okay, take it easy pal, we pleaded, our arms held high in surrender.

“One of you, only one, come forward with your documents,” he yelled, his voice quivering. “I’ve got the rest of you covered.”

Yea, we know, we know. Lighten up please, buddy. I’m thinking, Christ, these guys have watched too much TV. This isn’t Lebanon. Nobody is going to run a suicide mission against tanks.

The reporter from Tapachula lowered one hand toward his shirt, and suddenly, a hysterical soldier started yelling and then he let loose with his automatic rifle firing into the air, the shots echoing through the hills.

We hit the pavement, shouting, “No. Don’t shoot.” Then the tank-gunner screamed at us, threatening to shoot us for moving.

After a tense few moments, the soldiers calmed down and the officer checked our papers. “It’s all right,” he said. “Now get to work and clear out those barricades.”

Who, us?
“That’s right, now?” yelled a soldier, aiming his rifle at us.

We tried to clear the road of glacial boulders and pine trees so big and tangled that the six of us could barely budge them. Yo, can we get some help here?

No response.

After nearly an hour of chain-gang work, hands all sticky with pinesap, we climbed into our truck and jeep, moving slowly through, half expecting to be sent into oblivion by a cannon blast. I stopped alongside the lead tank, and now our trigger-happy buddy was friendly and apologetic. Be careful, he told us.

This truck has a tradition to uphold

It was an eerie moonless night with not a single vehicle on the road but for the charred husks of several trucks and buses that had been shot up and burned in the first day of fighting.

We approached Ox Chuc, where angry townspeople had captured six rebels, beat the hell out of them and left them tied naked and freezing in the square. Suddenly, I had to swerve to miss a bomb crater 10 feet wide and 18 feet deep, a hole that might have ended all our pretensions.

But the bridge hadn’t been blown. We wondered why. We reached the military base just before midnight; they turned us away. So we circled back toward Comitan, where we found a lone taco stand and climbed out for the first meal of a long day.

Back in the hotel, I repeated the ritual of filing morning radio reports and tape throughout the night to New York. Luis, the desk clerk, was a bright, polite young guy who felt no love for the government. He had expressed some interest in becoming a journalist and was let use the phones against policy and even tinker with the switchboard wiring.

In the morning, we were back on the road to San Cristobal, where we found Flor, girlfriend of Kierar Murray, the “Mad Irishman” Reuter reporter who’s dispatches lured us here in the first place.

When she saw my dusty old pick-up, she burst out laughing. This truck is older than most of the people here, I said, and has been all over these war-torn areas. It has a tradition to uphold.

The government had set up a press center inside the Diego de Mazariego Hotel, where we had reunions with reporters who bump into each other at major media events around these latitudes. When I came waltzing into the courtyard, I heard the Mad Irishman shout: “There we go now, can’t be ‘avin’ a war wi’out ol’ Tommy Long, now can we?”

Not hardly.

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The Sin of Racism
This letter from America’s Episcopal Bishops was read to congregations throughout the nation on May 15. We excerpt it to help bring its good sense out of the churches and into all our lives.

Cries for justice in our land and around the world confront us with the sin of racism. Ethnic cleansing in central Europe, apartheid in South Africa, murder of indigenous people in our hemisphere, ethnic violence in the Middle East, India and other Asian nations are all variation on the theme of racism.

Escalating violence in America illustrates the complexity of racism. At the heart of the matter is fear. We fear those who are different from ourselves, and that fear translates into violence which in turn creates more fear. Institutionalized preference, primarily for white persons, is deeply ingrained in the American way of life in areas such as employment, the availability of insurance and credit ratings, in education, law enforcement, courts of law and the military.

The definition of racism from Webster’s Dictionary sharpens the focus for us.,

Racism [is the] abuse of power by a racial group that is more powerful than another group and the abuse of that advantage to exclude, demean, damage, control or destroy the less powerful group; a belief that some races are by nature superior to others; racial discrimination based on such belief. Racism confers benefits upon the dominant group that include psychological feelings of superiority social privilege, economic position, or political power.

The essence of racism is prejudice coupled with power. It is rooted in the sin of pride and exclusivity which assumes “that I and my kind are superior to others and therefore deserve special privileges.”

Racism perpetuates a basic untruth which claims the superiority of one group of people over others because of the color of their skin, their cultural history, their tribal affiliation, or their ethnic identity. This lie distorts the God’s action in creation, wherein all human beings are one “in the image of God.” It divides people from one another and gives false permission for oppression and exploitation.

While our generation is not the first to experience it, racism has surfaced with particular intensity today because pluralism — the inevitable result of a shrinking world — exists on a scale not known before. The challenge of people with differing backgrounds having to live together has never been greater. The sin of racism is experienced daily in our society.

Racism may be manifest in any race when it is in a position of power and dominance. In the United States our primary experience is one of white privilege, even in places where whites may be a minority in the surrounding population. This comes as a surprise to many white people, because they do not think of themselves as racist. They may even see themselves as victims of various violent reactions against the dominant culture. Yet there are many in our society at all levels who seem to find a certain security in racially restricted communities, schools, clubs, fraternities, sororities and other institutions.

Whoever uses power to suppress and demean people of another racial group stand in need of confessing the sin of racism. No conscious actions need be taken to perpetuate this sin. By virtue of its own institutional and systemic character, racism runs on its own momentum.

What Can We do?
Questions abound. Can the old melting pot image of assimilation be replaced by a better metaphor that reflects the value of difference? How can the inherited privilege and unearned advantage of some people be used to bring about the reconciliation of all?

The rooting out of racism requires intentional and deliberate decisions.

  • Each one of us make an inventory of racist attitudes in our feelings, habits and actions toward others.
  • Those of us who are white acknowledge that our advantaged position inevitably enforces the racism we seek to dismantle.
  • The time has come for us in the dominant culture to be still and listen to those on the margins of society. Attending with care may help us realize that people of color must expend endless energy as they contend daily with the consequences of racism. Sensitive listening may help us to understand our complicity with a system that discriminates, oppresses and demeans.
  • Many people live in de facto segregated communities with increasingly segregated public schools. Many barely subsist in an economy which affords declining opportunities for many people, most especially people of color.

We are particularly challenged by the despair of the young in our society, faced with a culture of drugs, sexual abuse and violence. In the face of these realities, we believe that our mission involves not only changing heart, but also engaging ourselves in seeking to transform a socio-economic system that drives many into poverty, alienation and despair.

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Dock of The Bay

No Nimbys in Breezy Point

Calvert County’s proposed purchase of Breezy Point Beach promises to be one of those rare deals that makes just about everybody happy. Even the next door neighbors.

It’s hard to complain when a generous third-mile of Chesapeake beach, all sand and sparkle and breeze, enters the public domain. Bay beaches are rare, rarer than the sharks’ teeth that are one of the rewards here.

Even the $1.2 million cost — to be shared equally by county and state, each paying $621,500 — sounds like a bargain. Sure it all comes out of our tax pocket, but even if we skipped the beach, we’d have to dig just as deep .

Once skipped, this opportunity wouldn’t knock again. “It’s the last opportunity in Calvert County,” says Sherrod Sturrock, who coordinates county capital projects.

“It’s unique,” echoes Commissioner Mary Krug. “Even if another property were someday available, under Critical Area restrictions, that kind of intense use would not be possible. What’s more, the price is right.”

So it’s good news that the couple of hundred people who live in Breezy Point Beach’s backyard aren’t complaining. In fact, they’re getting a little something to sweeten the pot: relief of a long-standing problem.

The problem is run-off. The community of Breezy Point rolls down gentle slopes of Calvert’s Pleistocene clays to the sandy sweep of Breezy Point Beach. Following the contour of the land, stormwater runs right on down, too, settling at Bay level in the marshy ground that divides beach and marina from village. The creeks that naturally drain the marsh are stopped with silt.

On that marshy ground, it would take a backhoe on big tires to clean out years of sediment. Would, if either the county or community had the right to bring the backhoe in. As it is, they’d be trespassing on private property. With the owners’ bankruptcy, courts and receivers add a couple of other kinks to an already knotty, problem. Meanwhile, low-lying yard get so saturated with run-off that septics are overloaded and wells possibly contaminated.

Helpless on their own, the community reported their plight to the County. The county, which held 15 community meetings in its deliberations over Breezy Point Beach, must have been listening. Now an easement to restore Breezy Point’s drainage has been piggy-backed on the purchase agreement.

“It’s a good example of the county and a community working together. We’re delighted,” says James Webster, speaking for Breezy Point Civic Association.

For this quid, there’s a second quo: if you live in Breezy Point, you’ll still get to use the public beach for free.

Don’t Worry about Who’s on First. Where’s Home?
Bowie’s Baysox — who’ve played in almost as many parks at home this season as on the road — may be weary, but they can’t go home just yet. Baring any new acts of God, June 16 is the day the peripatetic Sox will finally get the key to 8,000-seat Prince George Stadium, where they hope to live happily ever after.

The AA Sox’s first home was Memorial Park in Baltimore; they played a full season there last year once it was vacated by the Orioles. This year, the Sox had high hopes of beginning the season in a brand new ball park of their own. Those hopes were one more casualty of the winter of ‘94.

Three dozen games into this season, there’s never been a place the Sox can call home. First they shared Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick with the hometown Keys.

Then they took up residence in Wilmington, Delaware at a park that tested the tonsils of radio announcer Dave Collins: Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, Part of Pittinaro Park. Those three games against the Reading Phillies were the best draws of the season. “That’s border country, where fans are split between the Phillies and the Orioles, so we were sort of the home team,” Collins explains.

Next they played in Annapolis at the Naval Academy’s beautiful Max Bishop Field. They’ll finish out May with two homestands at University of Maryland’s Shipley Field in College Park.

Those Sox are hovering at second place, just behind the Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators as we go to press. Twenty-two-year old rightfielder Alex Ochoa got Baseball America’s vote for the best outfield arm in the minors.

But if their record’s dropped a little in past weeks, to just over the .500 mark, who can blame them? It’s natural that they’re giving away runs by the half dozen. Those Sox are homesick.

“We were doing great the first few weeks,” says Collins.

Back then, the Sox expected to be going home to Bowie any day.

That being the case, it may be worth your while to turn out to root for the almost-Bowie Baysox when they play in College Park May 20–26 and again May 30–June 5. They’ll be, after all, in the home stretch.

Get your tickets at the gate, or call 800/956-4004.

Bay Kids Love to Read
If you lived in a book, who would you be?

The stories kids like best are mysteries and fantasies. At least that’s the opinion of the couple of dozen kids from southern Maryland who dressed as their favorite literary characters to parade through the St. Charles Towne Center Mall.

Hanna Bauman, age 3, donned a cardboard crown to dress as rebellious Max from Where the Wild Things Are. Kimberly Santangelo, 10, pretended to be Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Nobody dressed as Nancy Drew, but lots of kids become her — in their imaginations.

“You can go anywhere with your imagination,” said Kimberly, proving that kids read for the same reasons adults do. Sarah Anderson, 10, adds that stories can help you “get your mind off things.”

If he’d asked the kids, grown-up Eli Flam — who coordinated the first-ever Reading Festival for Friends of Charles County Library — need not have worried that reading is “an endangered institution.”

These kids already know that — in the words of 11-year-old Blake Kline — anyone who doesn’t read is “really missing out.”

—Amy Ellsworth

Will Maryland’s Next Governor Abandon the Bay?

Maryland’s campaign for governor offers a sterling opportunity to learn whether the 1994 crop of hopefuls is in tune with voters, who strongly favor protecting the Chesapeake.

But visitors came away from a Maryland Chamber of Commerce gathering this month wondering if some would-be governors are out of sync. Perhaps they missed a new poll done by the University of Maryland showing that over 60 percent of us want more done to restore the Bay.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a leading Republican hopeful, showed why she has earned an anti-environment reputation in Washington. She is a co-sponsor in Congress of a property owners “bill of rights,” designed to impede pollution controls.

Maryland has gone overboard, Bentley said at the gathering, in requiring developers to replace trees they knock down. She praised new state legislation that could slow conservation efforts by studying economic impacts.

Bentley also implied that Virginia was doing the right thing economically by loosening environmental rules.

Other Republican hopefuls echoed Bentley’s concerns. Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey said that state environmental rules shouldn’t go beyond federal rules. William S. Shepard suggested that curbs on farm runoff — the leading cause of nutrient pollution in the Bay — be voluntary rather than required.

Meanwhile, Democrats Parris Glendening, Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg and state Sen. Mary Boergers intoned the popular catch-phrase that the environment and the economy needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Observers suggested afterward that Republican aspirants expressed anti-environment sentiments to soothe their Chamber of Commerce audience.

“Once we get beyond the September primary, it’s likely that the Republican nominee, whoever he or she may be, will tone down and get more in step with voters,” remarked one political insider.

Let Us Eat Popcorn

Sausage and laws shouldn’t be seen in the making.

But popcorn? Aromatically hopping right before our eyes? We believed it was as good as mothers’ milk for movie goers, midnight snackers and rainy afternoons.

But that balloon was burst for movie goers last month by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

What you may not know will restore your faith. Movie popcorn has been rehabilitated.

“It’s fabulous. Almost an entire industry has changed in a couple of weeks,” crows Jayne Hurley, Center nutritionist.

You’ll remember the bad news: the popcorn 70 percent of us were gobbling in darkened theaters across America was popped in coconut oil. Hurley calls it “the worst oil you can use” for the human body, the oil that helps your arteries clog up with heart-stopping cholesterol.

Thus the bottom dropped out of one of the twentieth century’s few remaining innocent pleasures.

The news shook popcorn eaters and energized theater management. Within days, coconut oil was on the way out of seven of the eight largest theater chains in the county.

Change was quick because theaters had an alternative. Canola, corn or peanut oil pops a flavorful corn with 12 times less deadly cholesterol-raising fat. As long as the oil isn’t solidified into shortening or “hydrogenated,” which quadruples the cholesterol-raising fat count.

What’s more, theaters choosing the alternative were prospering. In Washington state, Seattle’s Grand Illusions theaters, for example, have won popcorn eaters’ “best tasting” awards in the five years they’ve been popping with eater-friendly oils.

Theaters in New Bay Times’ neighborhood were also ahead of the curve. The Apex Cinema chain that runs both the biggest theaters in Annapolis plus Calvert County’s only theater, in Prince Frederick, has been using canola oil — not cholesterol-heavy shortening — for two years. They’ve been running the good new on their marquees since the popcorn scare started.

Eastport Cinema uses “healthier soybean oil” to pop their corn — and tells you so on recorded message right along with their movie schedule.

Thank goodness they’re making it easy for us. Otherwise, we’d likely be filling up on guilt as well as cholesterol on Friday nights because, as Annapolis Mall 4 assistant manager Todd Stregiel says: “People love their popcorn when they go to movies.”

We’d be able to eat still more popcorn with even less guilt if our corn were air-popped. There’s even a new technology that upgrades air dry corn by misting it with salt- and spice-clinging oil.

Don’t look for your favorite theater to switch to air anytime soon. We’d heard savory reports, but Eastport Cinema’s manager Tanya Trivett tried some and pronounced it “not worth eating.”

We’d asked her for more detail, but she excused herself, saying, “I’ve got to get that batch of popcorn right now.”

Crossed Agendas at the P.O.

The bureaucrats had a simple agenda. Anne Arundel County Planning Office and the U.S. Postal Service called a meeting in Tracy’s Landing to show community residents the architectural drawings for a new post office to be built soon on Route 2, just north of Fairhaven Road. Did anyone object to the style or the size?

(The spot had been set and accepted with little resident objection at an earlier open meeting.)

Residents came to the meeting with their own agenda. No one but Postmistress Heidi Mudd came from the 200 plus homes that get their mail at Tracy’s Landing. The other dozen worried neighbors came from Fairhaven, a village with an identity crisis.

Those Fairhaveners worried whether a post office in their neighborhood meant a change in zoning from residential to commercial. No siree, they learned.

A post office can move to your neighborhood without changing its zoning, Joseph Elbrich of the AA County Planning and Code Enforcement Office explained. Like any other property owner, Gil Giodono, who owns the new post office site at the corner of Rts. 2 and 243, has the right to apply for a zoning change on the rest of his property. But the presence of the post office won’t tip the scales.

Well then, would Fairhaven’s mail be routed through the new Tracy’s Landing post office just two miles up the road? Sorry. Tracy’s Landing needs a new building because the old trailer post office between Routes 256 and 258 lacks both handicapped access for patrons and toilet facilities for employees. It needs a new location because the current one won’t support a septic system. The new office will continue to deliver mail to its current 220 residencies and any new homes that are built in the present service area. Not to Fairhaven, which will continue to get its mail through Dunkirk, a dozen miles away, according to Vicki Cheek of the U.S. Postal Service.

But Fairhaven is in Anne Arundel County and Dunkirk in Calvert, residents complained. Two small Anne Arundel post offices are nearby, and this new one will be practically on their doorsteps. Because of their Calvert County zip code, they’re overlooked when notices go out about meetings like this. Nobody knows where they are or who they belong to. They’re the village that slipped between the cracks.

Complaints got aired but not resolved because where, not who, was on the agenda. As a federal operation, the Postal Service is unconcerned with county lines.

The proposed new post office will go up after all the surveying, permitting and inspecting is completed — perhaps by summer’s end.
We bet it’ll be a bit longer before Fairhaven is reunited with Anne Arundel County. Stay tuned.

Big Bucks for Big Fish

Sure, bluefish remain rare in the Chesapeake, but who would have thought one of them taken recently off Solomons would be worth nearly $600 a pound? Or that a couple of others would have been considered so stale they weren’t worth a cent. Or is it a scent?

An angler identified as S. McHoul fishing aboard the private boat Susanita , skippered by Michael O’Hare, collected $10,000 for the 16.93-pound blue he caught in the 12th annual Rod ‘n’ Reel Pro-Am Tournament headquartered at Chesapeake Beach. Not bad when you considers fish market blues sell for about $1.29 a pound these days.

In the waning hours of the contest, a private boat pulled into the Rod ‘n’ Reel Docks and attempted to check in two large blues, but the contest’s weighmaster refused to accept them. Seems they didn’t appear fresh enough to have been caught during the two-day tournament.

The crew at the Rod ‘n’ Reel has a well-deserved reputation for meticulously checking out entries. Nearly a decade ago, another boat attempted to weigh in a fish that had ice cubes and a few small lead sinkers obviously thrust into its stomach. Every little bit can help when fish are weighed in the hundredths of a pound.

“It’s our obligation to keep the tournament on the up and up,” said dockmaster Fred Donovan, who listed other bluefish winners as Charles Beasly, with a 10.57-pounder worth $1,000 taken aboard the Debra J, and C. Marenka with $1,000 for his 10.24-pounder landed on the Island Hopper. Drew Payne collected $500 for 2.2-pounder caught on a private boat that didn’t even have a name.

The $500 for the largest rockfish, a 32.84-pounder went to John Tkach, fishing the Island Hopper out of Chesapeake Beach. DNR allowed the contest to offer a small prize for one rock, and many were caught off Solomons and Chesapeake Beach. No sea trout were checked in.

By the way, if EPA has its way there won't be much concern about lead weights ending up in the stomachs of fish taken during future tournaments. That agency is proceeding in its efforts to ban the sale, manufacture and import of fishing sinkers of lead or brass that measure more than one-inch “in any dimension.”

They weights can poison waterfowl that swallow them when feeding or gathering grit.

No proposed ban on ice cubes yet.

Way Downstream...

  • The arrest by federal agents of five New York men and a woman from Tennessee was strictly for the birds. According to the Department of the Interior, the alleged smugglers were bringing in wild cockatoo eggs from Australia concealed in special body vests.
    Why would they do this? Because trade in endangered cockatoos is banned, and several hundred eggs hatch into birds worth over $1 million...
  • Speaking of Down Under, an Aussie sent us a fax last week arguing that in six years, the lovable koala bears will be extinct. Why? Because eucalyptus forests, where they live, are disappearing...
  • Our Creature Feature this week comes to us from Burma, where Michael Schmidt, a noted American veterinarian, has been hired to correct a large problem.
  • Burma’s elephants are having trouble reproducing, and not because of stillbirths or problems of that nature. As the Wall Street Journal put it, after a long day in the forest, the pachyderms are too pooped to procreate.

    Schmidt’s remedy? Making their camps “more romantic” to stimulate breeding.

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In Calvert, Investing in People

The clapping you hear between sentences is applause for the Calvert County Commissioners. Their plan to buy the Breezy Point beach and give people a place to play makes absolutely good sense.

This is not a done deal, but everybody should work to make it so.

We Baysiders forget sometimes that there’s not much public access to the Chesapeake. Boatless folks who live an hour or two away hear how great the Bay is. Then they get here and can’t touch it.

From Solomons to Sandy Point State, you can count the public beaches on one hand. Visitors drive up and down Bay roads and see nothing but No Trespassing Signs. They go away and don’t come back.

This does nothing for our Free State reputation, not to mention the cash registers of our restaurants, stores and good folks who make a living along the Bay.

The commissioners’ plan would give people almost a mile of sandy beach amidst a 16-acre playground for all ages, featuring a fishing pier, bathhouse, picnic area and trailer campground. There’ll be way more open space right next door if the Plum Point Trust succeeds in buying Neeld Farm and preserving it as 185 acres of public wild space (See Dock of the Bay in NBT, Vol. 2:10).

Calvert County is a partner in that plan, too. A million dollars in their soon-to-be finalized budget will support a Revolving Loan Fund to open more space for you and me.

Bravo, we say.

Still More Reasons to Trash Incinerator Plans

Last fall, New Bay Times began writing about the Incinerator Trap that Anne Arundel and Calvert County planners could fall into.

We based our objections not on health concerns, though we believe it is dumb to convert common trash into toxic materials — what you do when you burn trash. Nor did we make a big deal about how recycling and composting is a much wiser alternative or how recycling rates have dropped in some of the incinerator towns.

Rather, we told you about the economic fix that dozens of communities have plunged into after falling prey to incinerator peddlers.

The facts are these:

The landfill crisis predicted in the late Eighties has not happened. As a result, counties and towns that invested millions in these colossal garbage ovens find themselves in trouble.

Why? There’s not enough trash to burn so they can’t collect enough revenues to cover costs.

The Maryland Environmental Service reports that new landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania are charging as little as $22 a ton to take trash. So disposal sites in the region — which were charging over $50 — are losing their hides.

Some communities have bailed out. Baltimore’s incinerator is owned by a Connecticut bank. Ford Motor Credit Corp. owns a handful and Philip Morris owns the incinerator in Detroit. (A deserving partnership, you say?)

Now, there are more warnings about the Incinerator Trap. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that communities must treat ash from incinerators as hazardous waste when it contains toxic heavy metals. That means paying $400 or more for secure landfills.

At the very least, this means elaborate trash separation before burning and expensive precautions afterward to prevent toxic ash — laced with lead, cadmium, arsenic and the like — from getting mixed in with ash that is not technically hazardous. Also, lots of testing.

What do the incinerator manufacturers say? No problem. Just build a smaller plant to avoid overcapacity, take the precautions and everything will be okay.

Tell these people to get outta town. The new warnings come not from environmental advocates but from the state of Maryland and the U.S. Supreme Court. A quite conservative court at that.

The message to planners: do not go forward with incinerators unless you’re prepared for uncontrollable costs.

Once an incinerator gets going, you may never be able to stop it, even with the courts on your side. In Arkansas last week, a federal judge named Stephen Reasoner concluded that a hazardous waste incinerator there constantly violates pollution rules and “poses a threat to the safety and health of people.” Yet Reasoner said that the law leaves him powerless to grant an emergency request to shut it down.

In Anne Arundel or Calvert Counties, the health effects of proposed incinerators may be debatable. But this much is for sure: that pungent smell in the air will be your tax dollars going up, up, up in smoke.

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Letters to the Editor

The Power of the Bay Way

Dear New Bay Times:
OK. You have convinced us. We have sold our house and purchased a new home near the Chesapeake Bay. Please change our address for our subscription.

—Charles and Linda Lawrence West River, Md. formerly of Burke, Va.

Growing Up Smart

Dear New Bay Times:
Hi! I am a 4th grader at Lisbon Elementary School. I am working with a group on the Chesapeake Bay. I was wondering if you had any brochures or pamphlets on the wildlife or waterfowl. I would also like to know which animals live in this kind of habitat and how the problems of the Chesapeake Bay affect them.

I already know that the bottom of the Bay has black sand. But why? Could you please tell me the answers as soon as possible? Thanks.

—Joanna Kasda 4th Grade Libson Elementary School

Editor’s Note

Dear Joanna:
We’re pleased at your interest in the Chesapeake Bay, for we hope that people your age will grow up more aware than we were that all our actions affect our world. Asking questions and seeking answers will help you make Chesapeake-friendly choices.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the place to turn with your questions. Their job, they say, is to help people of all ages at every grade level understand our Bay. Write them at 162 Prince George Street; Annapolis, MD 21401.

A newspaper’s job is report the answers to important questions like yours. Once you’ve found your answers, write us again. We may want to publish your report.

Take that, Bill Burton! And that! And that!

Dear New Bay Times:
I have a rural background like Bill Burton’s and just as many gray whiskers, so I should know when he’s full of it. His article of 8 columns in your April 7 issue should have considered this:

To try to understand the value of our individual freedoms, one needs only to look to accounts of Chinese factory managers executed by their government for not being “productive” or Kurdish families being gassed by the controlling Iraqi government.

And to understand the intentions of its framers, one needs only to look to individual freedoms in The Bill of Rights: The Second Amendment offers simply the right to keep and bear arms.

Yet Congress played with the Brady bill, while the Big Media and politicians claimed the bill would solve our crime problem. No sooner had the ink dried on the signatures of that bill then we started hearing that the Brady bill was “only the beginning...”

A guilty press uses Ugly Names to keep the issue hot.

Ten years ago, Saturday Night Specials were blamed for the majority of crimes. They were banned. Eight years ago, Cop Killer Bullets were blamed. They were banned. Later, we were told of the horrors of Assault Rifles. More firearms were banned. This year Assault Pistols received the blame for crime. They too were banned. The U.S. Congress is now considering a ban on magazines of 5 rounds or more, which applies to millions of firearms used safely and responsibly by millions of hunters across the United States each Fall.

We shouldn’t compromise our individual freedoms or our children’s. City kids are raised on cable television violence and a rich, liberal Hollywood entertainment crowd, who see all firearms as bad, and won’t rest until all guns are banned. I fear only criminals will have access to firearms when access is banned altogether.

I look to the nightly news and think our current government is failing us in terms of protecting our individual rights.

Millions of Americans are morally committed to the right-to-life, yet the Federal government may force us to pay for abortions through the national health care program.

The U.S. Surgeon General declared nicotine so addictive that it ought to be banned. What about other drugs? Ban other drugs, don’t supply needles to addicts. Dr. Elders, don’t provide condoms to our kids or grandkids in school “clinics.” When will it end?

—William F. Hoover Davidsonville

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Bay Reflections

Duck Tales
by Audrey Y. Scharmen

On the heels of spring came courting mallards to my yard. One drab little brown hen waddled up the hill from the creek with a swaggering drake in full spring splendor. They checked out the prime real estate under the azaleas and the spreading juniper while I watched with apprehension, hoping they wouldn’t choose the barrel on the dock where the geraniums grow — where crows held last year’s company picnic.

Little did I know what I was in for when I came to live with ducks. They seemed so charming at first. But mallards are not the best of neighbors: they are capricious and unstable like — well, like people.

The hen is a real control freak. She sweetly selects a site and builds the nest; then, in a fit of post-partum rage, kicks out the drake when the clutch is completed. This makes him angry, and he often returns with rowdy peers who behave in an irresponsible manner, resulting in some carnage and a lot of non-consensual acts of a disturbing nature. All this right outside my window.

Often a hen disappears in the melee and never returns to her newborn ducklings, who wander the neighborhood untended until, one by one, they are all gone. We are talking anguish here: lots of wailing and hand-wringing by us shore-dwellers.

One summer we adopted a day-old duckling abandoned on our doorstep. When we sought advice from an expert on such things he told us to let it be. Leave it to nature. We asked if he thought that should be the rule for all starving little ones worldwide. Are we to ignore famine victims? How about oil spills? He hung up on us.

So, with the help of a small dog who cuddled and attempted to nurse it, we tended the duckling until it was grown. We shed tears when it flew happily away.

That was the same summer a hen died soon after her clutch was hatched in a neighbor’s yard and (I am not making this up), the drake returned to raise the youngsters.

We are seeing fewer ducklings in our creek each year. Refuge is scarce on our bulkheaded tributaries where predatory creatures, chemicals and indifference are taking a toll.

Thus, despite the anguish and aggravation — the charges of anthropomorphizing — I suppose we shall continue to “upset the balance of nature” by offering friendship and emergency care to the ducks, by sharing amiably a habitat which, after all, belonged to them in the first place …

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Who's Here

At the Feeder

The indigo bunting darted amid jay and blackbird to snatch a seed. It’s true: you’ve not been blue … till you’ve got that mood indigo.

Swaggering pigeon-toed blackbird, iridescent as oil on water, radiates blue when struck by sunlight. Hip-hop bluejay plays celestial scales of blue.

Then in flies a modest bunting and God says “Let there be blue.”

I like being present at creation.

That’s why I broadcast seed all year long, even though the man in the family insists those birds should toughen up and fend for themselves come summer.

Broadcast feeding, by the way, is a way to avoid song-bird infection from dirty feeders, a problem much in the news lately.

Rain — or a hose — keeps the “table” clean.

There’s plenty of room at my roof-top table so I get quite a show.

What ho-hum colors nature has left for us humans. No wonder grandmother trimmed her hats in exotic bird feathers. I’d have a party if my glad rags knew anything about blue.

In the Garden

The irises are beautiful

For one day, two days, each purple — or yellow, blue-black or gold — petal gleams with golden epaulets. Furled blooms stand ready on every side for their own burst of fragile beauty.

After the initial shock of beauty, nature shocks again — offering contrast. Those first lovely blooms quickly wither but refuse to drop. They cling like soiled tissues to their stalks, daring the newest blooms to claim their moment in the sun.

Isn’t this the way of nature? Death and decay co-exist with budding and beauty. During the brief weeks that new irises open, only that first day or two gives no hint of death. Out of a whole year of life, iris cares to flaunt its beauty for a brief moment.

If beauty is not the motivator of nature, what is? Life itself would be my answer. Life is abiding. Life has staying power. Life yields to deaths. Life returns in its season to underground dormancy. The cycle of life outlives individual life. Bud and flower and withered bloom play against the green constant leaves and hidden bulbs. Mystery and melancholy vie with delight. Life changes, transforms and changes again.

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Laughing Gourmet

Sweet Onions, the Onions with the Funny Names Walla Walla, Maui, Vidalia, Texas “10-15”

Most people can’t make it through summer without watermelon or fresh strawberries. Forget lemonade. Summer just wouldn’t be summer for me if it weren’t for sweet onions.

My admiration for the flat and peculiar root vegetables began many years ago when a package of Vidalias arrived on our doorstep from my uncle in Atlanta. Before long, we started picking them off our local supermarket shelves, one by one. At first. Then in 50-pound boxes and bags.

We live like unrequited lovers most of the year, when Vidalias and other sweet onions don’t grow. By April, we’re ravenous. We’d pay a mint for their sweet taste. But with prices like 19 cents a pound for Vidalias at Magruder’s, we’re spared. Of course the supermarkets benefit because we buy more.

We keep buying until they stop stocking their shelves in late June, because sweet onions aren’t like other onions. Born in warm climates and rich soil, they deserve their name.

Add sweet onions to chili or Italian potato salad, and the old dishes take on a whole new flair. Cook with them or put them between two slices of bread with a slice of tomato or another cold vegetable to make a sweet onion sandwich. They’re so good you can eat them raw in more than salads; they’re easy on your eyes and don’t ruin your breath. Even non-onion eaters eat them.

Some onion-eaters become legendary. Every family has them. When Grandma Markey of Dallastown, Pennsylvania, finally retired to her rocking chair, she got up only for bed and to fry sweet onions in lard for her noontime sandwich. Another grandmother crept into her mother’s barn loft and gorged herself on braids of drying onions.

This gourmet’s father’s love for such strange and exotic vegetables comes from the market his grandparents owned until he was fully grown, even further north in Bethlehem. Since he’s become a follower of Dr. Dean Ornish, author of Reversing Heart Disease and Lose Weight; Eat More, his love for sweet onions has grown. On a fat-free diet of beans and pasta mostly, there’s hardly a staple in his diet that doesn’t taste better with sweet onions, minus Grandma’s frying pan. He feels the same way about hot peppers, but that's another story entirely.

Sweet onions are good for your heart as well as his, but not so much as their bitter cousins. Wouldn’t you know? Their blood-thinning, good cholesterol-increasing properties, like their flavor, are not as strong.

Vidalias — named for the town in Georgia where they grow — and Texas “10-15” — named in part for when they’re planted — are the two varieties of sweet onion you’ll find in most area stores. You’ll have to look a little harder for the others, but you can consider the hunt an adventure.

Sonia Linebaugh, our kid's page editor, tells us how her Grandma Markey made sweet onions devilish, by frying them in lard, for a noontime snack. One sweet onion sandwich fried each summer day put Grandma to sleep in the rocking chair on the front porch of her Dallastown, Pennsylvania farm home. Sweet onions, north of the Mason-Dixon, wow!

If I didn't know better, I'd say it's the only case. But my own father's love for such strange and exotic vegetables comes from the market his grandparents owned until he was fully grown, even further north in Bethlehem, PA. Since he's become a follower of Dr. Dean Ornish, author of Reversing Heart Disease and Lose Weight; Eat More, as an adult, his love for sweet onions has only grown. On a fat-free diet of beans and pasta mostly, there's hardly a staple in his diet that wouldn't taste better with sweet onions, minus Grandma's frying pan. He feels the same way about hot peppers, but that's another story entirely.

Whether your sweet onion comes from Georgia, like the Vidalia; Texas, like the Texas “10-15”; Washington State, like the Walla Walla; or Hawaii, like the Maui of lava rich soil, they’ll sweeten your summers.

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Burton On The Bay

Lessons for Sportsfishermen:
Fishing for Fun Means Don’t Kill the Fish

Now the outlaws become legal, and the heretofore illegal chasers of rockfish have a new, legitimate fishing opportunity. But once again, the species didn’t have much to say about the matter.

Amidst surprisingly swift developments, which we will cover a bit later on, legal catch and release of rockfish has come to Maryland to finally put on the right side of the law many unethical fishermen who have been doing so all along despite regulations that specifically banned intentional out-of-season angling for the species.

DNR has adopted a somewhat controversial policy recommended by the Maryland Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission to allow fishing for rock out of season if the fish are promptly returned to the water, hopefully no worse for their experience than sore in the mouth.

Those who fish for rock will have the satisfaction of the fight, watching a beloved adversary only moments before it swims away, quite possibly to endure being caught and released another time or two before finally being caught for good in season on the Chesapeake or other bays, rivers, or the Atlantic where most of the East Coast’s stripers roam when not here for the annual spawning ritual.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea in these times when catch-and-release plays an increasingly prominent role in fisheries management and just plain fishing. It’s traditional among many trout fishermen, especially those who fish with the fly. It plays a big role among big game offshore fishermen who challenge sailfish, marlin and even broadbill swordfish.

Bass fishermen are among the latest to play a prominent role in catch and release; most tournaments promptly release 90 percent or more of the fish weighed in. When fish are given a second chance, even a third, fourth or more, they are available again for fishermen and for something even more important — available to spawn.

Anything for a Fisherman
Catch-and-release is the opposite of the old hatchery concept of put-and-take, which ironically originated in the very same trout fishing community that pioneered catch-and-release. In put-and-take fishing, the hatchery trucks put the fish in the water … and fishermen take them out. Usually for good unless their creel limit has already been caught.

In the old days before short-term closures after stocking, the biggest challenge among fishermen was to break the barrier of secrecy to learn the stocking schedule. This accomplished (as it often was), fishermen would cast to fish (often trout) still befuddled by handling, a bouncy ride, and their abrupt change of environment.

So much for the sporting aspects of fishing.

Catch and release is the much better route. But is it appropriate for rockfish, a species whose numbers were so depleted a decade ago that a coastal moratorium was implemented? Most fishermen think so; some don't. I’m in between, unconvinced that the concept is best for the fishery, yet inclined to think that fishermen deserve more recreational opportunity.

With Bay bluefish and sea trout numbers approaching low ebb and black drum, flounder and Spanish mackerel runs so unpredictable, Chesapeake Bay fishing could be a pretty unproductive sport in summertime between the spring and fall seasons for rock, which are now officially considered a restored fishery. Many anglers want more than spot, hardhead, perch and other pan fishes.

There’s no black-and-white divide on the issue, with charterboaters on one side and recreational fishermen on the other. Some sportsfishermen and charterboat fishermen fear unintentional mortality due to stress of the fight and more serious hook injuries. Some charter skippers don’t think it will help business.

Their parties, they say, aren’t interested in catching fish they can’t take home. So much for the time worn adage that just fishing is the fun with catching the bonus.

It matters not what either side thinks; catch-and-release is here, and many thousands will pursue it on a recreational or charter basis. And, let’s face it, catching and releasing a few rockfish when other larger species aren’t available can add a little excitement to an otherwise unproductive day.

Evening the Odds for the Fish
In rockfish management, our DNR is on the cutting edge and has been for a decade. It mandated sacrifices despite the complaints of many, reopened striper fishing when many had serious reservations, and implemented regulations to guarantee maximum catching opportunity while protecting the target species in brief seasons. It was and remains in the forefront of managing stocks, setting an example.

Maybe DNR is confused about crab management, but few can complain about the rockfish side of the ledger. Other than a disparity that doesn’t allow recreational anglers as much opportunity as their charterboat counterparts, their rockfish policy is a good one.

Thankfully, catch-and-release has some important stipulations. It’s not simply a matter of us going out, catching rock and releasing them. Added restrictions are involved:

1. Catch and release will not be allowed in spawning areas from March 1 through June 30, which is considered spawning time. Spawning areas are tributaries of the Chesapeake and any waters above the Bay Bridge.

2. In addition, from June 15 through Sept. 15 there can be no catch and release in low salinity waters of the Susquehanna below Conowingo Dam. The legal interpretation of “below Conowingo Dam” is waters between the power lines and the dam where rock congregate. In effect, because of overlapping closures, there can be no fishing for rock in this area from March 1 through Sept. 15.

3. Under catch and release, anglers must have in their possession a valid rockfish permit in addition to a tidewater fishing license.

4. Live eels can be used only during the fall rockfish season, on the assumption rock take these baits deeply into their mouths resulting in added unintentional mortality.

5. Catch-and-release anglers must keep abreast of emergency restrictions that could be added by DNR to protect fish.

For instance, lower salinity and increased temperatures increase unintentional mortality. If trouble spots appear, closures could avoid mortality. Mortality, figured at 6 percent from the stress of a fight, increases dramatically when salinity is low, water temperatures go above 70 degrees and fish average 22 inches or longer. If the summer is hot and dry, be especially alert for possible closures.

Play by the Rules
As a Monday morning quarterback, I wonder why the department didn’t add two more restrictions. Why didn’t it ban multiple hook rigs and insist on barbless hooks?

The most important aspect of catch-and-release is to insure less handling time, so a fish is put back quickly. The longer it is out of water, the greater the risk of mortality. Barbs make hook removal more difficult; when set deep, they also pose a significantly greater risk of injury.

The same can be said for multiple hook rigs (anglers are allowed rigs with up to two hooks). It seems reasonable that hook restrictions would lessen mortality, especially in hot weather when seconds can count in getting a fish back into the water.

Some fishermen complain that multiple hook and barbed hook bans would mean they would have to either alter their conventional rigs and lures or buy new ones just for catch and release. They object to the expense involved.

To them I say stay home. If it isn’t worth your while to lessen chances of increased mortality when you fish, you won’t be missed.

Sure, a fish or two could be lost, but the fish go back anyhow, so what does a fisherman have to lose? Any knowledgeable angler knows that by keeping a bent rod and line taut, most fish can be landed successfully.

Hopefully, DNR will consider these additions in the future.

Meanwhile, the department will closely monitor mortality and other factors involved in catch-and-release. All regulations will be strictly enforced. So play by the rules. If anglers don’t cooperate fully, and if mortality is greater than anticipated, the relaxed policy could be rescinded. We’d be back where we started.

DNR will manage catch-and-release fishing by promoting angling ethics and educating recreational anglers on proper fishing and fish- handling techniques. They’ll be cooperation with sports fishing associations and environmental organizations

Sadly, catch-and-release is easier said than done.

Handling a big rockfish requires strength and willingness to thrust a hand inside strong, gaping (though virtually toothless) jaws. Some fishermen have neither.

Fishermen must also be convinced to waste no time by taking pictures, measuring or weighing trophy-sized fish. There’s a lot of educating to do.

For the Record
Now back to the swift developments that led to the new policy. Rumors in some quarters allege catch-and-release came as a shotgun arrangement to legalize my fishing outing with DNR secretary Torrey Brown and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski the day before the rockfish season opened. According to the Washington Post , we were fishing for rock on Capt. Buddy Harrison’s Pleasure Merchant.

No truth whatsoever. Fact is that for more than a year, catch-and-release was debated within the advisory commission. The go-ahead decision had long been made. One holdup was whether shad could be included in the program: they couldn’t because their moratorium still applies.

Missing from the column of Post outdoor writer Angus Phillips was still another fact of which he was aware. The trip with Brown and Mikulski (she caught and released one; he didn’t get a strike) was an annual event held on the last Saturday in April the past 37 years.

The excursion is directed to catching the season’s first mid-Bay bluefish. A few large blues had already been caught near the mouth of the Potomac, and blues were targeted by the 37 fishermen aboard our six boats. Had we wanted rockfish, we would have waited another day and kept those of 34 inches or longer.

We weren’t about to change our last-Saturday-in-April rendezvous because of the possibility — or even likelihood — of catching a rockfish. If fishermen were to refrain from fishing for other species because rockfish were in the Bay, no one would ever go fishing. that’s another fact conveniently ignored by Phillips, long a catch-and-release advocate, maybe even a practitioner.

So now, like it or not, Phillips and all the rest of us have the opportunity to fish for rockfish much of the year. With opportunity, we have the responsibility of sparing our temporary catch any serious consequences from the encounter.

Enough said...

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Bay Journey

You Don’t Know Bay Life Till You’re Part of It
by Steven Anderson

I’m no waterman. I don’t fish even on a blue moon basis. So how do I really know if the Bay is declining or prospering

I read about it in the papers publishing, but facts have sometimes been doctored — not here in New Bay Times, of course. So who knows what’s the truth?

Imagine if you could see firsthand the effects of humankind on the Bay. Now imagine if during these discoveries you were able to have fun.

Like me, Chesapeake Bay Foundation can put you there in the flesh.

On the ex-crab boat Snow Goose, a 10-year-old deadrise, we departed from the Baltimore Inner Harbor to enjoy the clear breezy morning and explore the Patapsco River. Though our trip was as pleasant as any Saturday boat outing, this was not a leisure cruise. As passenger Margie Lewis from Pasadena said, we were going to “have fun, and learn too,” not sitting in a class and watching video tapes but through experience and experiments on the water.

Bill Marker of Baltimore and I worked together to test the river bed. Another passenger, he had as much to learn as I. By dropping a pair of claws to the bottom, then pulling it up closed, we examined the substance on the bottom.

Sediment is darker than a car tire; reminds me of a tar pit. Wearing rubber gloves, I picked plastic trash out of the silt, vintage plastic wrappers and a fountain drink top that wouldn’t decompose. In silt that has collected many years of oil and toxins, we found no life: no worms, no crabs, no oysters. All the creatures were gone from the river bottom. If looking at the silt was stomach churning, smelling it was worse. Think of a smell worse then a petroleum plant, a rubber factory or a gym shoe that was never washed in its five-year life.

Floating near the Inner Harbor, we continued testing for water salinity, clarity, and pH. balance. I hoped that downstream we’d find evidence of life.

Captain Stephen Butz steered us off the main shipping channel to another prime testing site. Drifting in a small abandoned harbor, we started a new battery of tests with better results. When Bill Marker pulled up the bottom sampler, the color of the silt was closer to sand and the smell sweeter. “We have been finding life in the mud farther from the city,” said the captain.

Leaving the small dock to venture farther down the river, we broke for lunch. During our self-made meals, we talked about our discoveries. Then, with a fishing pole in my silt-stained hands, I climbed to the top of the Snow Goose and to cast my bait into the water. The only thing I caught was a sun tan. I even tried crabbing with a string and a chunk of bait fish that guide Linda Block cut up but got not even a claw.

After lunch, we tried our luck trolling to see who we could see. Feeling very optimistic, Stephen filled two 5-gallon fish tanks with river water, promising we were going to stuff both tanks with fish. As the youngest on the boat, I got to smell the otter trawl net before it was thrown out. Smelled like the water to me.

Out the captain tossed out the net and two pieces of wood that carry it to lower depths. The Snow Goose moving slowly ahead, net dragging. A half-mile later, all on board had to pull up an increasingly heavy net. We’d caught six four-inch fish.

They didn’t quite fill our tanks, but we had enough to study. Though the process of elimination, Linda showed us that we’d caught not rockfish but striped perch.

Heading back to our docks, I understood that though most of what I saw depressed me, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is trying to stop the destruction of the Bay.

See for yourself. Take the trip that many school kids have enjoyed. Children on the boat; they’re more than happy to try the experiments. Adults need a little push.

For nonmembers of CBF the cost $50; for members $40. Call 410/268-8816 to sign up.

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Diversions and Excursions

Riding, Walking and Skating— the Rails
by Liz Zylwitis and David Hawxhurst

Light rail, the trains of our present, get you to Orioles games and boost our state’s economy. Trains fast as airplanes may streak through our future. But the trains of the past are long off the track.

Before Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers, trains could get you almost anywhere you wanted to go. By 1916, a mighty labor force of mostly immigrant workers had built more than 250,000 miles of track to cross the nation. Since the 1950s, the nation’s railroad system has been unraveling. About 50,000 miles of track have been abandoned so far, while perhaps 175,000 are still in service.

What happens to all that track when the little engine runs out of steam?

Almost 7,000 miles have been turned into railroad trails that still draw millions of folks every year from big cities or the suburban sprawl to acres and acres of wilderness. Some are dirt, some limestone and others the original “ballast” of the railroad bed.

Rails to Trails, the national organization credited with bringing people back to those abandoned lines and keeping the developers away, was founded in 1986 by David Burwell — now an environmental lawyer representing the National Wildlife Federation, and Peter Harnik — who remains with Rails to Trails.

“We lend advice to local and state governments,” explains Eric Cropo, “who ask how to get the land for a trail and what kind of trail to build."

Local Trails
The Baltimore & Annapolis was a short-line railroad that once linked up with the long-line Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad. You can’t take the B&A train anymore, but with a sturdy pair of shoes, you can walk along the 13.3 mile paved route. With a bike, you can ride it. And with rollerblades, you can even skate it.

Anne Arundel County’s Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad Trail, one of six Maryland railways converted to trails, now extends from Dorsey Road near Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Glen Burnie to Bolter’s Way, just above Annapolis. Since its opening in 1990, nearly 500,000 people have visited the trail each year.

In the hot summer months, overhanging trees cover the B&A trail, keeping it cool and shaded. Rollerbladers, bicyclists and walkers smoothly cruise the black asphalt trail. Only the slight hum of nearby Ritchie Highway keeps you from slipping totally into the quiet tranquillity of the countryside that surrounds the trail’s southern end.

Traveling north, you pass a horse farm and a few high bridges over deep ravines before the setting turns more urban. Cross roads and the backs of stores become a regular part of the scenery. Then, as if out of nowhere, the big white giant appears: Marley Station Mall sits ominously on the east side of the trail. Its parking lot is a common starting or stopping point for trail users.

The northern end of the county-run B&A may soon connect to the BWI Trail, says David Dionne, who’s working with the State Highway Administration to make that link. At the south, Dionne hopes a link with Annapolis’ Parks and Paths for People will stretch the B&A trail through the rest of the old train’s path.

A little farther east, the 11-mile Capitol Crescent Trail has recently opened to human power. This line, the old the Georgetown spur, was used to move coal from Bladensburg to a federal heating plant in the District. Trail by trail, the old cross-continent connections are being remade.

—Eli Flam contributed to this story.

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