Recreational fishing is a sport that has no age, social or racial barriers. Wading through a stream with a fly rod, boarding a small boatat a launch ramp, or just walking to the river's edge is something most anglers take for granted.
However, when you have physical disabilities, such impediments as curbs and guard rails -- found in some public fishing areas -- often make reaching the water an impossible task.
Although state and federal law now mandates handicap access at all new public facilities, access for the physically impaired and elderly sometimes is overlooked in the design of recreational areas.
A case in point is Lapidum Landing, a Susquehanna River boat launch andfishing area at the end of Lapidum Road, near the southern boundary of Susquehanna State Park. For more than a half-century the landing was used by hundreds of handicapped and elderly anglers.
But a recent renovation of the landing area has restricted that access.
Until the renovation, anglers with physical disabilities could enjoy a day fishing for catfish, carp, striped bass, walleye, white perch and yellow perch.
They merely parked their cars close to the old bulkhead, climbed in their wheelchairs and wheeled to the water's edge. I often saw elderly anglers fishing from the stone bulkhead while relaxing in the comfort of folding lawn chairs.
When the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) closed the landing 14 months ago for renovations, a few folks grumbled. However, the vast majority of Harford's anglers were happy to hear the news. There was no question the landing was in dire need of repairs.
After a decade of planning and at a cost of more than $1.3 million, Lapidum Landing has been transformed from an eyesore to a beautiful five-acre facility. It reopenedJune 30.
The new Lapidum Landing has large parking areas, rest rooms, landscaped gardens, paved launch ramps, a floating boat dock anda rip-rap bulkhead bordered by galvanized steel guard rails. It's a great place to launch your boat.
But it's no longer accessible to folks with physical disabilities or any senior citizen who is not agile.
The old stone bulkhead, where for decades, thousands of individuals fished, is now buried under a pile of unstable boulders. Even an agile, young, healthy person risks injury if attempting to negotiate the rocks to reach the water's edge. For a person who uses a wheelchair, the rip-rap bulkhead might just as well be the Great Wall of China.
Several DNR administrators who I talked to said there isn't sufficient money to pay for installing handicap access at Lapidum Landing.
Lapidum Landing isn't the only recreational facility in Harford with little or no access for the handicapped or elderly.
Harford Glenn, a large park off Wheel Road near Abingdon operated by the Harford County Board of Education, has an excellent nature trail and a large pier overlooking Atkisson Reservoir.
However, if you're a paraplegic, it's virtually impossible to reach the water's edge, and negotiating the nature trails in a wheelchair is impossible.
Woodsdale resident Cecil Wood, a retired Aberdeen Proving Ground civilian worker, has been fighting for the rights of Harford's handicapped for several years.
"I've been trying to get them to put in a little place at Harford Glenn where handicapped people could get down to the edge of the water and let them get in a boat, but I haven't got it doneyet," said Wood.
He contacted the county Board of Education on several occasions, but has been unsuccessful in his attempt to get handicapped access at Harford Glenn. Wood said he was told there wasn't enough money in the school budget to build handicapped access.
Woodhas been a paraplegic since being injured in 1955. The 62-year-old Wood retired after working more than 40 years at APG. For about the last 10 years, he's been active in the fight for handicapped access in public areas of the county.
Chris Burley, superintendent at Susquehanna State Park, said plans for the renovation at Lapidum Landing were drawn up prior to mandatory handicapped access. Wood said he findsthe statement difficult to believe, especially when you consider handicapped access became mandatory when the Rehabilitation Act became law in 1973.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the county's Susquehanna River shoreline is too rugged for elderly or physically handicapped people. The only river access for these individuals is now restricted to a small park in Havre de Grace, the Jean S. Roberts Memorial Park at Ostego Street and Water Street.
Wood said he'll continue to fight for handicapped access at public recreational facilities such as Harford Glenn and Lapidum Landing. His goal: handicap access at both areas by next spring, when the run of white perch begins.