A Summer Place At The Water's Edge

POSTMARK: ROMANCOKE PIER

July 25, 1993|By ROSE SPIK

On Kent Island in Queen Anne's County, the local folks have a term for the sweltering humidity. The word is close, as in too close for comfort. When the thermometer and the humidity both hit 95, when your skin is clammy and your brow is damp, that's when you've reached close.

On the southern end of Kent Island, there's a place for summer delights, for crabbing and picnicking -- a place for enjoying the close weather. Off the beaten path of Route 50 East, south on Route 8, this place is the Romancoke Pier on the Eastern Bay.

At dawn, before the sun heats the wooden planks, caretaker Jean Graham pulls open the chain-link fence surrounding the park that leads to the pier. Devoted crabbers and fishermen are waiting to enter. They stake their claims, setting out their lounge chairs and popping open soda. They pull out their coolers and buckets, and prepare for that first catch.

As the morning wears on, the young teens come out on their skateboards and bikes, zooming in and out of the pier gates before Mrs. Graham can catch them. If it's not too crowded, she'll let them stay and perform a few tricks on their wheels. The rules listed on the sign at the entrance to the park prohibit such frolicking, however, so she soon shoos them out.

Mrs. Graham remembers the pier from long ago, before she, like so many others, made the move from the Western Shore to the Eastern. She was 18 when she and her husband first visited the pier.

"The pier was privately owned in the '50s, when we first started coming down here. There was an older gentleman by the name of Capt. Bob -- everyone called him that. He worked for the owner and had an open trailer where he sold hot dogs and sodas," she says. "We'd call ahead and ask Captain Bob to order us a gallon of milk and a couple loaves of bread and he'd have it ready for us when we arrived. He was his own little merchant down here on the pier.

"There were rowboats for rent; I think it was about $2 for all day. There must have been a dozen rowboats lined up on each side of the pier. Back in those days a lot of people, like myself, from the 'other side,' owned property over here, but there were also those who just came for the day and rented a boat and went off crabbing or fishing."

In the afternoon heat the pier is virtually empty. Mrs. Graham, gone to check on the county golf course, has left a handwritten sign on the chalkboard saying that she will return to collect any user fees and, please, "Have a nice day."

The early risers have decided to call it a day or to come back after the sun cools. Teen-age girls stroll in search of their friends and huddle together, giggling. They stop to talk with the boys on wheels, who still zoom inside the park. Two women wander inside the pier gates; they push a stroller, and the sleeping baby's head gently rocks and rolls as the stroller's wheels cross each pier plank. An osprey pair glide over the water, settling back into their nest on a perch at the edge of the pier.

The flashing yellow light warning of the end of the road beckons the community inside the park's peaceful evening haven. The people of Romancoke-on-the-Bay watch the Eastern Bay as the sun sets. The teens are still out. Evening brings also the 9-to-5ers who have finished dinner and taken their little ones for walks.

In the muggy evening air, before closing up for the night, Mrs. Graham takes the time to walk along the pier.

"How did ya do today?" she asks the few remaining crabbers and fishermen, who ask her for just a few minutes more before she closes.

"Not too good," come the replies. "We'll have to try again tomorrow."

"I'll be back here in the morning at sunup," she calls, thanking the neighborhood kids who help her pull the fence closed for yet another night.

The yellow flashing light has brought a few cars to the end of Route 8; the drivers toot their horns and wave hello before turning north once more.

PIER POINTS

* Romancoke Pier was once a stop on the Chesapeake Bay ferry system. The Governor Harrington II, named for a Maryland governor, journeyed from Annapolis to Romancoke to Claiborne (in Talbot County).

* The osprey perch was erected three years ago by the Queen Anne's County Department of Recreation and Parks, which manages the pier and its surrounding 1.5 acre park. About 60 feet from the perch is a fence to keep the end of the pier off-limits to visitors and to protect the birds. This summer's pair .. of birds will stay until their southern migration begins, around Labor Day.

* Queen Anne's County residents can enter the pier for free; other visitors pay $3 a person. There are picnic areas and bathrooms.

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