||Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Two Points of View
Innocence and Experience Visit the Beach
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again
William Blakes Notebook: 1804
Though those words were written 200 years ago this year, one wonders if humans will ever learn. It isnt just the wind that blows the sand back again; the same can be said of the sea. It washes it back.
That thought came to me the past week when I journeyed to Ocean City to perhaps hop a boat offshore where Boston mackerel traditionally bite in the Atlantic Ocean as the first days of spring roll around. If not, Id romp with granddaughter Grumpy in the sand on the beach. The macks werent biting, so Grumpy and the beach won.
Day after day, earth-moving equipment was busy making a molehill out of a mountain of sand not far from the boardwalk in the vicinity of the long fishing pier that juts out into the sea. Grumpy thought it was great, as would any toddler of two years and three months, seeing she could dig in the fine stuff on the beach and wave to the operators of the earth movers as they passed by. A youngsters delight.
Sand Down a Rat Hole
Though Grumpys pleasure was quite satisfying, I couldnt share in her enthusiasm. What we were witnessing through different eyes was something like put n take fishing. You know: Fisheries managers put the fish in the water, then fishermen take them out, as is common in Marylands freshwater trout fishery and practiced to a lesser degree with yellow perch, walleyes, bass, muskies and even rockfish among other species.
The men at the controls of the scrapers at the rear of their tractors were dragging sand toward the beach, where within weeks the first hardy souls will frolic in swimming attire and perhaps even take a dip. The earth movers are putting the sand in place, and the mighty Atlantic will take it out. Always has, always will.
As the beach was being groomed and graded, I could hear the roar of the surf hungry to start gobbling minuscule white crystals.
My friend the late Reese Layton, who for many years was a charterboat skipper out of Ocean City, put it succinctly indeed, in eight words: Its like pouring sand down a rat hole.
No one can begrudge Ocean City of its glistening white sandy beach. It draws hundreds of thousands on a summer weekend. But the powers that be have their own selfish motives. The people who go to enjoy that sand in daytime also patronize the boardwalk businesses and their high prices and also stay and eat in the city beside the sea.
Harry Kelleys Wisdom
As I watched the fresh sand scraped closer to the windswept surf, I thought back to the days of Harry Kelley, who for years served as mayor of Ocean City and challenged William Donald Schaefer in the Democratic primaries for Marylands top job. Harry was as much of a booster of his city as Schaefer was of his, every bit as much. But when it came to the sands on the beach, his observations over the years convinced him that humans could not win the sand battle with the sea.
Its a waste of money moving sand around like kids in a sand box. Thats the gist of what Harry told me one day a couple of decades ago. The ocean will always win, but Harry had no objections as long as the state was helping to foot the bill for moving around dry and dredged wet sand. In his younger days, he had spent a lot of time at Assateague Island, where he had learned that the Atlantic rules and in the long run, humans do more damage via tinkering than good.
While Harry was mayor, I called him at home late one night, told him I was writing my regular monthly column for Outdoor Life and it was on the boardwalk fishing pier. The only thing lacking was the exact length of the structure. He confessed he didnt know and didnt know anyone who might know that late at night but promised to call me back that night.
A bit over an hour later, it was Harry on the phone. I forget the footage he told me, but before thanking him, I casually asked where he got the number. I drove down and measured it, he said, with a 20-foot rule. Yes, Harry would do anything to bring business to OC, but he was more inclined to let nature take its natural course in ruling the beach. Its he for whom the Route 50 bridge leading into the city is named. That, of course, was long before the explosion of high rises just over the dunes.
Too Fancy for Fishng
Pretty much overlooked is one of the resorts first big drawing cards: fishing. City ordinances impose many restrictions on surf fishermen. Part of the pier was washed away in a storm never to be rebuilt; it cost too much. I know a headboat skipper who is about to desert OC. He can no longer find an affordable dock for his big boat, for headboats need parking space for the 50 or sometimes many more anglers who pile aboard them.
It appears that this particular headboat will now work the waters off the mouth of the Potomac in Chesapeake Bay, where in most places fishermen are still welcome. At well over 70 feet, this boat will be the biggest to my knowledge on the Bay. OCs loss is our gain.
Is OC Our Loss?
As Grumpy and I watched the big sand replenishment project, I pondered another twist to OCs artificial grooming of beaches and the impact on the Chesapeake. What would it be like hereabouts if the seashore wasnt so attractive and the boardwalk werent so inviting?
As late as the 1950s, many, many beach buffs patronized Bay beaches, some mom and pop operations, others as big as Chesapeake Beach. Ocean City lured most of them away. Had it not, would our Bay have been better? Would not the countless thousands who enjoyed Bay beaches then demand a cleaner Chesapeake for swimming? Their numbers could not have been overlooked by the politicians.