Volume 13, Issue 32 ~ August 11 - 17, 2005

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Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton
photo by Bill Burton
Timothy Greene with a white perch he caught at Fort Smallwood.

Fort Smallwood Park Is Too Rich To Be Ignored

The memory of all that —
No, no! They can’t take that away from me.
—Ira Gershwin song

Memories. In the kind of e-mail I appreciate, reader April Sweitzer mentions her days spent crabbing from the long pier at Fort Smallwood Park in North County. No mention of big and costly theme parks, which is what’s required to satisfy most youngsters of today; just reminiscences of days when, as the lyrics of another song went: Little things mean a lot.

Memories. I’m from the generation when little things had to mean a lot. There wasn’t a lot of anything good and exciting in the Great Depression — other than a lot of little things that added up to memories that bring a warm glow in the breast when thinking back on times when pennies counted and adults worked six- and seven-day weeks.

April is curious about whether the park is still in operation and whether that 200-foot pier still juts out over Rock Creek at the end of Fort Smallwood Road where, when younger, she caught crustaceans, romped about the old fort and swam just off the beach.

For her, I have promising news if she wants to return to that scene of days of yore. But she’ll need a bit of patience.

Those Were the Days
Currently, Anne Arundel County is negotiating with the City of Baltimore to take possession of the park, which as I recall is 70 or more acres opposite Bethlehem Steel on the Patapsco. Baltimore has been rather neglectful in its stewardship of Fort Smallwood, named after a Revolutionary general. Only the stewardship of Gil Boisvert, a hockey player with the old Baltimore Clippers, makes it usable as a park today.

Gil operates the park as a concessionaire in warmer months and keeps the trees trimmed, the grassy fields mowed, the trash picked up and other maintenance done. But, April, the fort itself is boarded up, the beach is no longer fit for swimming and a few years back Hurricane Isabel did in that long pier — though the crabs and fish remain hungry where it once stood.

Memories. Like you, April, Gil Boisvert has one of that long, wide pier, one of the park’s main attractions, where a little house that served as a snack bar was also ravaged by Isabel. One day shortly after he took the park over, Gil looked out on the pier — and almost had a heart attack.

Out at the end of the pier was parked an automobile, alongside of which was a crabber in a wheelchair. That pier was built 60 years ago, so it was close to 40 years old at the time. Gil shooed the man away from his handicapped parking space, asking who could save him if the pier tumbled into Rock Creek.

Funding has been approved for a new pier, and though it will be about the same length, it won’t be wide enough to accommodate a car. Curiously, the city has first replaced the pier at smaller Fort Arminger, more to the east on Fort Smallwood Road, within the city limits. Same old story. Fort Smallwood always gets the short end of the stick.

Memories. Back before Gil moved in at Fort Smallwood, I witnessed another incident involving a visitor who traipsed too far from shore. Had Gil been around then, he would have had a heart attack. A macho fisherman figured he had come up with a way to catch the larger bluefish that roamed a bit too far from the rocks that protect the shoreline on the Patapsco side of the park.

He arrived in chest waders, climbed down the rocks, waded into the river and started casting a plug. Sure enough, he soon had a five-pound bluefish, and held it high for those fishing from shore to envy. Not long thereafter, he had another bluefish on. But in trying to handle it, he slipped in water up to his chest, his waders filled with brine and one foot was wedged between rocks. Gone was his rod ’n’ reel.

Two young men reached him and literally carried him ashore. Two days later a park attendant told me that later that night a shore fisherman snagged the line of the man with the waders — and reeled in rod, reel, plug and a seven-pound bluefish still full of scrap.

The original fisherman never got his tackle (or bluefish) back. He had exited too sheepish to leave his name, and the regulars tell me he was never again seen at the fort.

Memories. In my 49 years in Maryland, I have never seen a bluefish of the Chesapeake complex as big as one caught by a Baltimore angler from those rocks. It weighed some 18 to 20 pounds; we couldn’t say for sure because no one had a scale that could handle a fish of that size.

That came about on the weekend of an MSSA bluefish tournament when the rockfish moratorium was in effect. Several hundred boats had signed up for the contest, and the biggest fish came from the shore of the park. Had that angler been in the tournament, he would have won a new pickup truck and a bundle of moola.

Memories. I have many more of Fort Smallwood, like at night when the row of gas lanterns lit up the boulders as fishermen lined up, the tips of their rods (the other end encased in sand spikes planted in the ground) painted a luminous orange or white so they could see the tips jiggle when a fish nibbled.

Memories to Come
Memories. Of all of them at Fort Smallwood, to me nothing approaches the sight of watching youngsters like Timothy Greene of Carroll County (see photo) catch their first fish there. No Coleman lantern shown like their faces. We must remember that to get budding citizens interested in saving the Bay, they must have a reason. What better reason than sharing in its bounty?

Whether the city or the county owns and operates the park in the future, methinks that once again kids will romp inside and outside the fort, the playgrounds will be busy, crabbers and fishermen will catch from the new pier, swimmers will swim in Rock Creek and the tidy fields will host picnickers and hikers. It has too much to offer to be ignored. Enough said — other than that you can call the park at 410-255-5520 and create a few memories of your own.

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