Ramping up expectations
Public boating access lags in Anne Arundel, upgrades plannedBy PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer Published July 19, 2008
Along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, there's water, water everywhere.
But along Anne Arundel County's 500-plus miles of coastline, there are relatively few low-cost opportunities to go for a swim, cast a line or launch a boat.
Boating opportunities, in particular, are few and far between.
There are just two full-fledged, public boat launching areas in the county. There are more spots to put kayaks and canoes in the water, but paddlers often find themselves launching at unofficial sites.
"Anne Arundel County has the least number of publicly owned access facilities in the state, yet it has the largest percentage of registered boats," said Bob Gaudette, director of boating services for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The state is partnering with the county government and the Annapolis government to improve public facilities for boaters - but it will be some time before those efforts become a reality.
Boating is a $2 billion industry in Maryland, with both locals and tourists drawn to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers for sailing, cruising and paddling.
Statewide, there are 200,000 registered boats, plus thousands more canoes, kayaks and other small boats that don't need to be registered.
The majority of registered boats are kept on trailers in people's yards or driveways, though Anne Arundel has a significant number of boats kept in the water at marinas or waterfront homes, Mr. Gaudette said.
Statewide, there are 300 publicly owned boating facilities - and just three of them are in Anne Arundel.
Sandy Point State Park near the Bay Bridge has a popular 22-lane boat ramp that park Assistant Manager Jay Kenty calls "one of the top three facilities for launching on the East Coast."
Truxtun Park in Annapolis has a two-lane boat ramp. And a launch site at the end of Tucker Street in West Annapolis has just one ramp and no parking.
Mr. Gaudette said it's been a challenge to get the Western Shore to keep pace with the Eastern Shore, where there are fewer people but more public boating facilities.
It's important to provide low-cost access because boating remains a popular activity, Mr. Gaudette said.
Even with the economy slipping and fuel prices rising, the state has seen only a slight drop in boat registration in the past year, he said.
He suspects boaters are taking shorter trips and staying closer to home - all the more reason to offer opportunities for Marylanders.
"It's a very popular form of recreation, very popular for families. It's a good wholesome activity," Mr. Gaudette said.
Anne Arundel County could soon get its first new public boat ramp in years.
Fort Smallwood Park at the northern tip of the county in Pasadena is in line for a boat ramp, likely a two-lane facility. The Weinberg Park nearby that's under development also will likely get a dedicated canoe and kayak launch area.
John Marshall, chief of park operations for Anne Arundel County, is excited about the prospect of adding opportunities for boaters.
County parks officials had to overcome strong sentiment against boat ramps from Pasadena residents who worried the roads on the Fort Smallwood Peninsula would be clogged with trucks hauling boats.
It seemed many people favored the idea of more boat ramps - just not in their neighborhood.
But the tide seemed to turn in recent years, Mr. Marshall said. He said a recent survey on boat ramps elicited almost uniformly positive responses from neighborhood residents.
"Every time we proposed sites, it ended up that homeowners opposed it and killed it. This time, we got a lot of support for the boat ramp," Mr. Marshall said.
And while the boat ramps are now finally in the master plan for the park, they still are several years from becoming reality.
Mr. Marshall said it will be at least two to three more fiscal years before work might start.
Meanwhile, the popular Truxtun Park boat ramps in Annapolis will get an overhaul starting after the fall boat shows.
The boat ramps won't be expanded, but they will be upgraded. One of the changes involves turning one of the finger piers into a floating pier, making it easier for paddlers to get their boats in and out of the water as the tides rise and fall.
The Truxtun project is paid for in part with money from the state's Waterway Improvement Fund. The Fort Smallwood and Weinberg projects also are likely to get state funding, Mr. Gaudette said.
The fund gets its money from a 5 percent tax levied on new boat sales - Mr. Gaudette's department's motto is "Your boat tax at work."
The county also is working on an countywide inventory of "car-top boat sites" - places where you can put in the kind of boat that fits on a roof rack, such as a kayak, canoe or rowboat.
And the state government is looking at expanding and publicizing water access points as part of the Capt. John Smith National Historic Water Trail.
The trail follows the journeys of Smith, an English settler at Jamestown who famously documented the Chesapeake Bay 400 years ago.
The Department of Natural Resources will send a report on access points - and lack of access points - to the National Park Services later this year. The report should pave the way for future improvements to help people get on the water to follow the Smith trail, Mr. Gaudette said.
"This is the first broad brush," Mr. Gaudette said. "We're going to go ahead and pick the most promising areas ... This is a long-term project."
There are three public boating facilities in Anne Arundel County.
(Revised July 2008)