- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004


When a fisherman’s $40,000 bass boat recently received a deep, nasty, scratch from an exposed nail or bolt on a passenger pickup dock at the Sweden Point Marina in Smallwood State Park, I received a phone call. “The park management is oblivious to the sad state this thing is in. The same goes for the adjacent boat docks,” he said.

I visited the place in question, and he is absolutely right. Worse yet, the deplorable condition of much of Smallwood’s boating facility is an enigma.

Earlier this year, the state doubled the fees for nearly all the state-owned boat launching ramps on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, which included Charles County’s Smallwood. As if this wasn’t enough of a slap in the face — showing favoritism to one locale over another — thanks to the popularity of Smallwood’s bass fishing access to the marina’s adjacent tidal waters, the Mattawoman Creek and the nearby Potomac River, the park was second only to Sandy Point State Park in the number of boats launched.

In other words the considerable amount of money that already had been made from $5 launch fees in years past has doubled. Not only that, the cost of season passes to the park were raised in each of the past two years. The cost went up, but the service went down.

At the time of the bass boat’s damaged gel-coating, a call was made to state parks boss Rick Barton. Barton, an amiable man we’re sure, promised the loading/unloading pier that lies within spitting distance of the marina office would be looked at and taken care of.

That was nearly six weeks ago. Nothing has been done, but money from the boat launching fees keeps rolling in.

Perhaps the dough is used to buy Barton a new government vehicle; maybe an official state boat; maybe some new picnic benches at Rocky Gap State Park or New Germany State Park in western Maryland, where Smallwood bass boaters rarely find themselves.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich isn’t the person to turn to. Currently, Ehrlich is more interested in slot machines at race tracks, or hoping to give Hollywood film producers tax breaks so they won’t go to Philadelphia if they want to make a movie about the Naval Academy. (I’m not making any of this up.)

The entire Smallwood State Park boating facility is a crying shame. Only the launch ramps are in good shape. But the state-owned year-round boat parking slips and marina that originally had grandiose ideas to compete with private marinas up and down the Potomac looks like a such a mess, there must be places in Baghdad that are in better shape. The vast majority of the rentable boat slips are empty. Very few of the big boats the marina was intended for have come to stay.

On the marina dock walkways, grass and tall weeds are growing. Seagull and Canada geese droppings help fertilize the unwanted “crop.”

The marina building looks deserted when in fact it could be turned into a money-making restaurant that would easily become the favorite of boaters and motorists in the area. Imagine, a little restaurant that serves a big hamburger, a soft-shell crab sandwich, maybe also a juicy steak, along with coffee and soft drinks — that’s it. I guarantee you those marina walkways wouldn’t be covered with goose poop if that happened.

But go and ask anybody up in the Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Annapolis how things are going down in Charles County and the answer will be, “Everything’s A-OK.”


Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washington times.com.

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