Volume 14, Issue 14 ~ April 6 - April 12, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Fishing Returns to Fort Smallwood Park

In Northern Anne Arundel, a new park but no new boat ramp

What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.

—Thomas Riley Marshall, 1854-1925

Allow me Tom Marshall, veep under Woodrow Wilson, to rephrase the above: What this county of Anne Arundel really needs is a really good boat ramp in North County.

And via sneaky political maneuvering of a North County delegate, well-laid plans for just that could be in jeopardy.

It was on the last day of March at the official opening of the ‘new’ Fort Smallwood Park that the bad news came to light, blemishing what would have been a day of celebration for those who have been working and fighting for more citizen access to the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries.

The county has taken over Fort Smallwood from the City of Baltimore and spent a ton of money via federal grant to paint, refurbish, clean up the grounds, remove derelict buildings and dead trees and make things downright spiffy. Park and county police now patrol the grounds regularly.

Who’s Got Our Boat Ramp?

But just up Fort Smallwood Road a mile or so to the west, another park in the early stages of development might not have the crown jewel originally planned for it: a state-of-the-art launching ramp. Had it been the first of this month rather than the last day of March, this news would have been passed off as an April Fool’s joke.

Only a few weeks before, County Parks and Recreation director Dennis Callahan told a cheering audience of a couple of hundred members of Pasadena Sportfishing Group of its intended construction. Despite Callahan’s history of politics (he’s a former Annapolis mayor), he didn’t anticipate the lengths some petty pols will go to when they think they are slighted.

Or when they’re set on accommodating friends who live on or near the water and who would deny citizens like us access to the water so they can enjoy continued peaceful serenity without cars driving by.

Enter Del. Joan Cadden, a Democrat from Brooklyn Park who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. You won’t believe the petty excuse she gave the Sunday Capital for yanking $90,000 of state funding for a study of the ramp.

“You don’t do something like this without letting the public officials in the area know, let the public know what’s going on,” she is quoted as saying.

How petty can one get? And her district is in the upper northern tip of the county bordering Baltimore, a long, long cast from the new park off Fort Smallwood Road. Moreover, the park planning wasn’t secret; maybe she was too busy campaigning.

Can this be a political game of gotcha? Cadden is backing Sheriff George Johnson’s bid for county executive; also in the running is Callahan. One of Cadden’s close political associates is Ray Huff of the Fort Smallwood area, a political gadfly who has long expressed dim views of sharing the Bay with others.

Incidentally, where is our delegate, John Leopold, in all of this? He’s unusually quiet, but that’s to be expected. A Republican and candidate for county executive, he’s the type who checks which way the wind is blowing before hoisting his sails.

Boat Ramp 101

Perhaps what’s appropriate here is a little lesson.

Anne Arundel County has only three public boat ramps: Sandy Point State Park; Truxton Park, Annapolis; and Tucker Landing, West Annapolis. The latter was opened in 1988 when Callahan was mayor. Bringing that one to fruition was no easy task. When bulldozers arrived, a pregnant woman tried to block them; she left only when an officer with handcuffs at the ready came on the scene.

The new, unnamed park near Maryland Yacht Club is 250 acres with 9,000 feet of shoreline on the Patapsco River, a gift of the Harry and Jeanette Weinburg Foundation, who Callahan says wanted the project to afford the public water access.

“It’s the ideal location for a ramp,” he said, “but there are some people there who don’t want to share.”

Bottom line: The county gets a gift worth a fortune that’s ideal for a ramp: it’s expansive enough to provide parking for vehicles with boat trailers as well as other park users’ vehicles and it’s practically on the Bay at the mouth of the Patapsco.

Realistically, how much will vehicles and trailers impact traffic in the area? The whole thing is in the study stage now, but probably at best a ramp would bring maybe an additional hundred vehicles down Fort Smallwood Road. That’s peanuts. Development is underway in the whole area: new houses, and, of course, renewed Fort Smallwood Park.

Callahan said he and County Exec. Janet Owens are committed to the ramp, but Cadden’s action in switching funds to new fireboats is a “significant” bump in the road.

You’ve Got to Know It to Love It

Methinks all of this is secondary to something even more important than a boat ramp and those who have but don’t want to share. How can vital citizen support come about to save the Chesapeake without access to it? People must have a taste of the Bay before they are willing to fight and sacrifice for its well-being.

While all of this is being hashed out, come see what the county is doing with the couple hundred acres of Fort Smallwood Park. It’s a bustling new tree-filled recreational area with water on two sides. The days of neglect by Baltimore are over. It’s a bit early for crabs, but bring your fishing rod and the kids. Enough said.

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