Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 23
June 8-14, 2000
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Water, Water Everywhere,
But Not a Drop for Us

I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 1917: Thomas Stearns Eliot

Hey T.S. forget about the mermaids and the singing. At least in 1917 you were allowed to walk on beaches, including many — if not all — those of our beloved Chesapeake Bay.

Today, if we walk beaches the only songs we hear are the lyrics of angry landowners, community associations — or the clanging of handcuffs affixed to our wrists by the Gestapo.

To paraphrase Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” penned in 1798:

Chesapeake briny water, Chesapeake briny water everywhere.

Not any drop to see and feel — unless.

Unless, I might add, unless you spend a bundle to dine at some fancy and expensive shoreside eatery, or cough up $2.50 to drive across the Bay Bridge — and once on it, dare to take your eyes off the wheel long enough to look down.

You might say — and I will — unless one can afford to patronize or own domicile on the Chesapeake (and pay the hefty taxes involved with the latter) our access to our Chesapeake Bay is about equal to our opportunity for entry to that big super-secret NSA complex near Fort Meade.

First the Indians were driven out, then a couple hundred years later, we’re kept out. And, we take it, with little more than a whimper. The Indians put up a better scrap.

And I might point out, that Native Americans are now fighting back — in the courts.

Do’es vs. Doesn’ts

As for the Chesapeake, its tributaries and many other waters salty or sweet, what we have today is a situation in which he that has — the land — has, and he that doesn’t, doesn’t. Most of us are Doesn’ts.

I read in the Sun that up in Greenwich, Conn., the citizenry thereabouts cracked to some extent the veneer that keeps the Doesn’ts out of not only the view but the actual shoreside of Long Island Sound. They went to court and put it bluntly with the gripe it ain’t fair. The State Supreme Court agreed.

Seems up there, there is this open area that overlooks the Sound at Greenwich Point Park. The whole area with its pristine beach is posh, elegant and scenic enough that the Do’es don’t think the Doesn’ts — those who don’t live there — belong. Not even to take in the glorious sunsets.

There’s an appeal by the selfish town, also a warning: “Please be assured that this ruling does not mean that Greenwich Point will be open to non-residents this summer.” Poor losers.

Even in California where snobbery is akin to that of the Royal Palace, the public has access to the Pacific — they can even wet their tootsies.

In Connecticut, I guess the locals think along the lines of elitist Nutmegger Doris Mayone, who in her 73 years has come to the conclusion “It’ll ruin the place.”

This, of course, tempts one to ask who does more damage: The Doesn’ts, once they get access, or the Do’es clan, who — once they have the deed — start cutting the trees for a better view, lace their lawns with pollutants to kill the dandelions, build bulkheads to stop erosion (which wipes out wetlands and changes water patterns, which eventually increases erosion and silting) or whatever else comes to mind to make their joints more ostentatious — so the Doesn’ts like us can gawk and think they must be rich, famous and successful.

Do’es and Doesn’ts Here at Home

Hey, Yankeeland is a long way off. Greenwich is more than 200 miles distant, but we don’t have to go that far to get the gist. I noted in The Capital at about the same time the Sun article appeared how the upper crust, many of them residents of posh communities, go to great lengths to keep trespassers off their exclusive waterfronts.

Seems they think because they have the moola to buy homes overlooking the water, or belong to community associations that have beaches that offer access to the water, it entitles them to exclusive possession of anything to do with the water and the sands it laps against.

So they’re prepared to spend as much time and money to keep the Doesn’ts out as they spend enjoying what they have. Egad, they’re something like the rich couple dining lavishly in the elegant restaurant while a starving kid peers hungrily through the window.

The list is long: Main Beach and three others at Cape St. Claire, Fairwinds in Severna Park, Herald Harbor in Crownsville, Hollywood in Severna Park, just to name a few on that long, long list.

Among those classified is a Mr. Does who is quoted in a front page piece in The Capital as saying: “I don’t think some people appreciate the cost of maintaining a beach. It’s not millions, but it’s not an insignificant amount of money either.” See, he who has (and spends), has.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not for taking that beach and water away from Mr. & Mrs. Does and their kids who frolic in same. But the general public is getting less and less access to the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

It isn’t that I want to bang on the fancy door of some waterfront castle and ask for a beach towel or to cool my bloodworm baits in their fridge. Nor do I want to infringe otherwise on their property and privacy. I know what that’s all about; I live on Stoney Creek in North County, but the community owns a very narrow strip of land around it.

And I cringe when some in the Community Association talk about the need of community stickers on cars to keep city folk from wetting a line or a toe in good old Stoney Creek — if they’d dare do so with all the outrageously noisy racing boats roostertailing wakes that would swamp anyone within a hundred yards.

Sure there are security problems, littering problems, noise problems and such — though not exclusively for those who live by beach or water. In cities, some people’s living room or bedroom windows are practically on sidewalks, but you don’t see them putting up red tape barriers so outsiders fresh from a nearby booze joint can’t walk noisily by.

Somewhere there must be a solution, and it isn’t a land grab. Currently, as far as the Chesapeake is concerned, it’s look (if even that is allowed) — but don’t touch. Pay for keeping it clean (as we should), but keep it clean for the Does Clan who have exclusive access.

Public access via parks is dismal in Maryland’s sector of the Chesapeake, and maybe it’s time that Gov. Parris Glendening take time from entertaining (at our expense) legislators at such things as the Preakness to ponder a solution.

While on beaches, I see that the 10th annual listing of America’s beaches again does not include Ocean City — not even in the Top 20. Nor does it make the list of the Top 10 with the best beaches for nightlife. You can get the whole rundown on Dr. Beach’s (who was once the water and waterfront whiz at the University of Maryland) on his website: www.topbeaches.com

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly