Water, water everywhere and not a beach to swim in

Anne Arundel County will open a new beach park in a few years featuring one of the state's longest stretches of public access to the Chesapeake Bay.

But don't plan on swimming or boating at the Beverly-Triton Beach Park.

A citizens committee recommended against both activities, saying too many visitors could disrupt the fragile ecosystem.

"It's a beautiful place, and it ought to be used, but I'm concerned about what for," said Chris Kline, a beach neighbor. Half-kidding, she added: "If it were for everyone here, and no one else knew about it, it would be great!"

The future swimless, boatless beach will not be an anomaly. Water is everywhere around the western fringe of the Chesapeake, but many Marylanders have a tough time just getting their feet wet.

Even when local officials are able to secure land for new parks, neighborhood objections and environmental concerns often constrain visitors' use of the scarce public shoreline.

Anne Arundel currently has only one public beach for swimming and only two sites with free public boat ramps.

Calvert County isn't much different. It recently opened one small Bayfront beach and two towns, North Beach and Chesapeake Beach, have smaller swimming areas. There are two public boat ramps on the Patuxent River but none on the Bay.

In St. Mary's County, which has one swimming beach and a handful of boat ramps, park officials recently bought the largest undeveloped tract of waterfront land in the county.

But environmentalists argue that 192-acre Myrtle Point should be reserved for low-impact uses such as hiking and fishing, not for swimming, boating or camping.

Some residents think beach neighbors are being selfish. "They're saying, 'Let's see what we can do and not have anyone come,"' said Albert Pritchard, an avid windsurfer, referring to the Anne Arundel group who recommended against swimming and boating.

That committee ultimately voted to recommend that non-motorized watercraft, such as windsurfers and canoes, be allowed at the park. They also approved the construction of baseball diamonds.

But other residents say beach neighbors have valid concerns.

Lloyd Lewis, a member of the Anne Arundel citizen's committee who lives near the beach, said many can recall visitor traffic that crowded the narrow peninsula when the beaches were open 30 years ago. "It was basically gridlock on the weekend," Lewis said.

Park officials also say that swimming is often impractical for waterfront parks. It's expensive for local governments to hire lifeguards and to string nets to keep jellyfish from the swimming area.


CBF seeks oyster gardeners

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a suggestion for waterfront property owners. How about a little oyster gardening?

No weeding and hoeing are required. No hours spent watering and fertilizing the crop. Oyster gardeners will not get to eat their crop but they will be helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay's depleted oyster stocks.

And that is important because the Bay has lost 99 percent of its oysters since the Civil War, said Bill Goldsborough, a CBF scientist.

All it takes is some sort of float to grow hatchery-produced seed oyster-young oysters about half an inch long- until they reach about 2 inches long. After the oysters mature, they are moved to protected growing areas where, if all goes well, they will thrive.

The process takes less than a year-from fall to summer-and the foundation supplies everything needed, including instruction, Goldsborough said. Little work is required other than keeping the float clean.

The idea got started in the early '90s, Goldsborough said.

Groups such as the Magothy River Association in Maryland have been involved in oyster-growing projects. And in Virginia, more than 400 families along the Rappahannock River are growing oysters with help from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and the Rappahannock River Resource Council.

Chris Judy, a shellfish biologist with Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, said volunteer programs mesh well with the state's efforts to restore the oyster population in the Bay.

"This provides an opportunity for residents to get involved in oyster restoration. They can grow oysters at their pier that will eventually be planted in protected areas," he said. "It may be very small scale, but it's stillimportant. It gets people involved, it's educational and it accomplishes restoration goals."

For information about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening project, call Pam Mullay at (410) 268-8816.


Va. gubernatorial candidate outlines environmental plan

Virginia should do a better job of monitoring polluters, Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., the Democratic candidate for governor, said as he outlined a six-point plan for the environment May 31.

"When the state does not enforce the law, then polluters have a competitive advantage over companies that obey the law," he told the York chapter of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It costs taxpayers money when the state is lax in enforcing the law, because the state has to pick up the tab to clean up the mess."

Calling himself a business owner and an outdoorsman, Beyer said Virginia's record of environmental protection under Republican Gov. George Allen was "mediocre ... There has been lax enforcement of conservation laws."

His plan calls for: taking the politics out of environmental protection; improving water quality by better managing the rivers that flow into the Chesapeake; improving enforcement of environmental regulations; helping companies comply with existing laws; setting clear goals and objectives with the help of the public; and education on the need to preserve the environment.


Pennsylvania parks seek volunteers

Pennsylvania's state parks need a few good volunteers. To underscore that point, Gov. Tom Ridge grabbed a pick and shovel and did his bit to help build a fishing area for handicapped people and a trail around a 75-acre lake at Keystone State Park, 35 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Ridge made his contribution June 24 to the state's new Conservation Volunteer Program, which aims at more than doubling the number of volunteers at the state's 116 parks.

Scouting, conservation, education and outdoors groups already spend more than 200,000 hours a year helping to build trails, clean up trash, maintain park buildings and serve as campground hosts or environmental educators.

"One of the reasons we're looking for volunteers is that the department is strapped for funds," said Gretchen Leslie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "We have a lot more projects than money. If we can get volunteers to do the smaller projects, we can focus our resources on some of the major stuff."


It's back! Black-necked stilt returning to Virginia island

It is a comical creature: A long black beak and a compact black and white body perched atop tall, bright-red legs evoke images of a costumed circus performer.

The black-necked stilt was a common sight along the marshes and mud flats along the Virginia coast until the 1970s, when it all but disappeared. Now, to the delight of bird watchers, it is returning.

The stilts began showing up four years ago, but experts were unsure whether the visits were a fluke. Their numbers, though, have continued to grow. As many as seven pairs were on swampy Craney Island this spring, said Ruth Beck, a bird expert at the College of William and Mary.

The birds live along both coasts, from Delaware south on the Atlantic and from Oregon southward on the Pacific. According to the National Audubon Society, the stilts, while not threatened, have been declining in numbers as a result of hunting.

During the spring nesting season, they become particularly aggressive and will fly low over an approaching human, sounding a loud alarm call as their long red legs trail behind them.

The birds arrive in mid-April and are gone by September, when they fly south to the Gulf of Mexico, Central America or South America for the winter.

But for 20 years, they stayed out of Virginia, probably because they could not find a habitat free of predators, experts said.

"A lot of places in Virginia have spent thousands of dollars to try to bring them back," said Bill Rawls, chief of Craney Island for the Army Corps of Engineers. "But the birds just like what they see here, I guess - the privacy, the marsh grass, the soft material."

Craney Island is a haven for many birds. The endangered piping plover, the least tern and countless other shore birds are known to breed at this remote, man-made depository of silt and water at the northern tip of Portsmouth.

This spring, Beck counted at least seven pairs of stilts, making this year's population the largest since the mid-1970s. The best mating season on record was 1995, Beck said, when 11 young stilts fledged.