Volume 12, Issue 23 ~ June 3-9, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

From Blue Angels to Battle Creek, fun on the cheap

The best things in life are free.
—Popular song of the 1920s, by Les Brown and Buddy De Sylva

Perhaps in this day and age, it might be more appropriate to quote from another still popular song from the ’50s by Stephen Soundheim: “America” in West Side Story:

I like to be in America!
O. K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

In these times, money flows like water across our nation. Though people gripe about the economy, they flock to convenience stores where they pay up to 50 percent more to save a few minutes. They dish out a couple hundred bucks or more for a family of four to see an NFL game. They virtually mortgage their short-term future to finance a costly SUV so they can spend more money on fuel at better than two bucks a gallon.

But, hey, some things are still free in America, and they are some of the best things in life. And others are, as the West Side Story song goes, are “for a small fee in America.”

I got to thinking about this last week as son-in-law Jon Boughey; two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Grumpy; friend Jeff Burek, chef at Maryland Yacht Club; and I journeyed to Annapolis for the practice of the Navy’s Blue Angels, the day before the real show at the academy’s graduation ceremonies.

Free Thrills from the Blue Angels
The show was free; no precious pass needed as for the stadium, and from our vantage point we had a better seat than those who took in the graduation. The action-packed spectacle gave us as much, if not more, excitement than a Ravens game if not the Super Bowl itself. At least Grumpy and I thought so. Jon and Jeff are more into pigskin enterprises, but they cheered as long and loud as they would have had their favored quarterback unloaded a bomb into the end zone.

There’s much talk about the camaraderie at stadium tailgate parties, but methinks the scene that unfolded before us would be hard to beat in the comradeship department. Spectators, mostly in family groups, came with coolers, folding chairs, cameras and binoculars to watch the best of the Navy’s pilots and aircraft perform over the Severn.

We were situated along with several hundred others on the bank above the river below the World War II Memorial, where many hundreds more took in the show. In the distance, we could see the jets circle and regroup for passes over the Naval Academy Bridge. Then we watched fascinated as they approached and screamed by. Where else can one get such an unobstructed view? Certainly not within the confines of the stadium where graduation was the next day. Many hundreds more watched from packed boats in the Severn.

Some things are still free in America, with others “for a small fee in America.”
The aerial acrobatics were breathless, especially for a couple of mallards sufficiently distressed by all the commotion that they took off in a high flight only to find things even more confusing and frightening when four blue and gold F/A-18 hornets blasted below them in a thundering low pass over the bridge. I’ll wager those ducks didn’t set their wings for a landing until they were over the marshes of the Great Lakes.

The finale of the practice air show came when all six jets made another pass over the bridge, bringing thunderous applause from the informal audience to cap more than two hours of what one might call the greatest show on earth. And all for free.

The same can be said for the annual Memorial Day Parade of well more than an hour that we took in the following Saturday at Sharpsburg on the outskirts of Antietam Battlefield in Washington County. That was another show of patriotism in a time when a nation is torn in the aftermath of the latest of wars.

But free or nearly free is not confined to just presentations of military might and glory. There are countless family activities for the budget-minded in parks and recreation areas, historic communities and sites, all with cultural learning and fun just for the asking.

Back to Nature at No Charge
Here’s one I can attest to as enjoyed by people from under three to over 70.

On the southern outskirts of Prince Frederick is small Battle Creek State Park, 100 acres in all, a place where a family can take in the natural life of a cypress swamp, picnic at tables if they so desire or perhaps hike a quarter of a mile trail through the woodlands for a laid-back experience.

From a deck, visitors can watch aquatic life in a small pond, see turtles sunbathing, maybe even snakes, and if they’re lucky, perhaps a woodduck. There’s also a small waterfall, and among the trees so many species of songbirds.

Within the main building there is a fascinating exhibit room with an aquarium in which a large albino snapping turtle is the main attraction. There are also mounted species of wildlife in their natural setting. Kids will love the indoor tree trunks with their little hinged doors they can open and peek inside to see which animals are secreted in such habitat.

What a place for groups, perhaps a big birthday party or a scout troop. Though there’s no general admittance fee (donations are accepted), for $35 a naturalist will put on a nature program for a group of 10, more for larger groups. Grumpy, Jon and I attended one on skunks last winter and found it was a delightful hands-on experience — though the furred polecat wasn’t a live one.

From Prince Frederick go south on Route 2/4, then within perhaps a mile, go right on Sixes Road, left on Gray’s Road a short distance thereafter and you’re at the park, where there’s plenty of convenient parking. If a nature program is desired, call 410-535-5372.

Yes, the best things in life are free — or for a small fee. And often close at hand. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.