March 27 usually is heralded by Harford County's recreational anglers as a day when all symptoms of cabin fever disappear.
It's traditionally the first day of trout season, a time when Rocks State Park is invaded by thousands of avid fishermen from throughout Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.
A little more than 10 years ago, parking restrictions were imposed at Rocks, where several roadside pull-offs were barricaded with logs and boulders. Park personnel claimed anglers parking at unpaved sites were causing serious environmental damage by compacting the soil or causing erosion.
At this point, the number of stream-side parking locations diminished dramatically, and in some instances, highly productive sections of the creek were accessible only to those willing to walk a half-mile or more.
Hundreds of local anglers called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources complaining about these and other restrictions imposed on recreational fishermen at Rocks. Their complaints apparently fell on deaf ears.
Additional areas soon were closed, but park officials claimed they would remedy the situation by opening parking sites adjacent to picnic and pavilion areas.
Although the overall number of parking spaces for anglers didn't increase substantially, those willing and able to walk considerable distances still could enjoy quality fishing at a few of the more remote fishing locations. This also is about to change.
When trout season opens March 27, anglers will be able to park at approximately 100 no-fee stream-side locations, but those parking at pavilion lots after 10 a.m. on weekends will be charged $2 per person.
"We'll still be opening up early for fishermen." said Lt. David Cooper, director of both Rocks and Susquehanna state parks. ** "We'll be there at 4 a.m. to open the gates and accommodate fishermen, but if they'll be arriving earlier, they can still park at most of the free areas."
Trout fishermen who traditionally parked at Eden Mill Dam will not be charged a fee, but restrictions have been imposed by Harford County's Department of Parks and Recreation. Essentially, the parking lot will be open from dusk to dawn, but provisions will be made for trout fishermen during early stages of the season.
When the Susquehanna River's white-perch run kicks into high gear, boating anglers launching their boats at Lapidum Landing will be greeted with a new $5 launch fee. Fees from these same boaters provided the $1.2 million used to renovate the facility.
Now they're being asked to provide money for picking up trash, mowing a small patch of grass adjacent to the ramp and paying an electric bill, averaging approximately $180 monthly. "The fee will begin March 1 and is $5 per vehicle for those launching boats," said Cooper. "We'll be using an honor system. The lot will not be manned on weekdays. We need this money to keep the facility open."
During the height of fishing season, launch fees could generate $1,500 to $2,500 weekly, a sum that is well in excess of the ramp's operating and maintenance expenses.
Cooper said revenue generated from launch fees will allow him ** to hire a seasonal employee to work at Lapidum Landing on weekends.
Cooper added that a small parking lot near Lapidum Landing's entrance will remain open to provide parking for non-boating anglers fishing outside the launching area.
A number of anglers attending the Mid-Atlantic Outdoor Show in Timonium said they were opposed to launch fees at Lapidum.
Cooper says boating anglers who intend to use state park launch ramps on a regular basis should purchase a "Summer Fun Pass," which sells for $50 at DNR's Regional and Park Offices.
Rick Barton, director of DNR's park service, said the pass allows boaters to launch at all state park ramps at no additional charge.
Senior citizens can obtain a Golden Age Pass, which allows them free entrance to state parks and use of launch ramps. Those 62 and older also are permitted to use parks and launch ramps free of charge.
For additional information on parks and launch fees, call the DNR regional office at (410) 836-4550 or Rocks State Park (410) 836-6735.