- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2006

I can’t be certain whether what’s happening at the super-popular Smallwood State Park’s waterfront in Charles County is run-of-the-mill maintenance and upkeep or a bit of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, but something is going on.

For me, it began when a good number of area fishermen contacted The Washington Times during the past 12 months complaining that their expensive bass boats were getting scratched up whenever they picked up passengers or were briefly parked at a loading dock near the park’s concession building. Some asked for help, apparently having made no progress by griping about it to the park staff.

Back in the days when it was still new, the loading platform was solidly built, its edges cushioned by tough material that appeared to be made of some type of padded plastic. It was quite safe to let a boat’s sides gently bump the patio-like structure that rose and fell with the Mattawoman Creek’s tides.

But in time the material became frayed and ragged. Bolts and nuts shone through, and more than one $30,000 sparkle boat was pushed against the dock by incoming waves or wind. I don’t have to tell you how expensive it is to fix the scratches and gashes on fancy fiberglass craft.

Phone calls and e-mails with the DNR’s parks offices in Annapolis were exchanged. Even a few promises were made and a lot of time passed — somewhat expected when dealing with government bureaucracy.

Now enter Pat Bright, the acting area manager of Smallwood as well as Calvert Cliffs, Chapman, and Chapel Point state parks. Bright immediately was interested in helping out, not only with the loading dock but also in other areas where disrepair had taken hold.

“But mind you, dock repair and replacement projects were in the works before I arrived,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve had two floating docks replaced, a fishing walkway and pier received new lights, pilings were capped and padding was replaced.”

What impresses the casual observer, however, is Bright’s instant interest and willingness to discuss problems of any sort.

You’d think that a multiple boat launch facility as busy as the one found at Smallwood’s Sweden Point Marina complex would be dripping with money. It’s reputed to be the second busiest in Maryland, second only to Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. The park, after all, charges $10 to launch a boat. Multiply that ten-spot hundreds of times every week during the approaching busy fishing and bass tournament season, and cash registers certainly jingle a merry tune at this park.

“It’s not that easy,” Bright said. “In a facility like this, I can’t simply use the money taken in from launch fees to pay for whatever I think should be taken care of. It doesn’t work that way. If a park manager sees something that needs to be quickly replaced or repaired, a ‘critical need’ request is put in with the state. A lengthy approval, design and engineering process is put into gear — and eventually it will be taken care of. But it takes time.”

These days Bright proudly points to a new boat refuse pump-out system, the fresh paving of a parking lot and at least half the park’s roads, along with smart-looking split-rail fencing at entrance points. In addition, the lonesome outer marina breakwater docks also will be replaced, he said. The breakwater thus far has been the primary resting place for sea gulls and Canada geese who have deposited so much “fertilizer” onto the walkways in months gone by that it sprouted enough vegetation to resemble a farm field.

Even that has been cleaned somewhat, and it is hoped that boats and people will flock to the facility, giving little room for the wild birds to claim the currently deserted docks for their own.

I say “hooray!” for Smallwood, but one nagging question remains. Why is it that I give the state a steady supply of money for boat registration and renewal fees, fishing licenses, regular taxes, added taxes and hidden taxes, but when I come to the park that most likely has been bought and paid for a dozen times by people like me, I must give them $10 to launch my boat? Meanwhile, at any Charles County-owned (not state operated) boat launch facility, there is no charge.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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