'Camp' is an oasis for less fortunate But residents, police want squatters to leave

October 06, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Beside the Little Patuxent River, a short way down a wide swath of dirt road in Odenton, several men with names like Kid and Pops have turned a muddy bank into an oasis, a vacation haven for the less fortunate.

It is a place where you can dangle your feet in the Little Patuxent River, sip a beer and try to catch a fish.

There are several clotheslines, a horseshoe pit, towels, barbecue pits and tents to spend the night. It's peaceful, the inhabitants say -- no loud parties, no drugs. It's religious, others say -- 20 people were "baptized" in the river just two weeks ago.

But most of all, it is a place for teen-agers to come and swim and have cookouts and learn the lessons of a hard life from the man called Pops.

He's 50-year-old Doug Woods, a self-proclaimed born-again Christian who lays brick for a living. He lives in a house minutes from the camp, located just south of where Patuxent Road crosses the river, but prefers his tent to his home.

"I used to roam the streets of Baltimore," Mr. Woods said. "My mother is glad that I'm out here now."

But others, such as county police, politicians and social workers, are not pleased with the group. They are trying to oust the squatters from the land.

"If they are indeed homeless, then I am willing to help them," said County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, who represents the area. "But as far as I understand, they have houses of their own. They just want to live by the river. It's time for them to grow up and get back into mainstream society."

Anne Arundel police said they are worried about crime, or even criminals who may hide from them by blending into the group. Mr. Boschert said several complaints have been lodged by residents of Piney Orchard, a 4,000-home development sprouting up nearby.

County officials are eager to oust the group, and are lining up social service agencies to help the squatters. But first, they have to figure out who owns the land.

Mr. Boschert, poring over deeds and tax maps, said on Thursday that Fort Meade owns the property. "I'm going to ask that the Military Police go in and just clean them out," Mr. Boschert said.

But Don McClow, a Fort Meade spokesman, said Friday that the base does not own it. The land could belong to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, owned by the Department of the Interior and located across the street from the camp. But officials for that agency also have denied ownership.

Mr. Boschert said two lawyers in the county law office are in the middle of a title search to sort out the problem.

The inhabitants contend they got permission from the landowner, who they refused to name, three years ago. If they are forced to move, they will go, Mr. Woods said, adding that he doesn't need any help. "I'm helping people already," he said.

The camp is divided into two parts, for adults and children. A black tarp with a cut-out window separates the camp from the path. The furniture includes a couch and coffee tables, complete with yellow flowers stuck in a wine bottles for decoration.

"Kid," 42, who would not give his real name, said on hot summer days, 200 people flock to the area to swim and eat. Many, he said, are teen-agers from Piney Orchard and day laborers and their families who can't afford vacation elsewhere.

Kid, who has shoulder-length black hair and sipped a can of Milwaukee's Best beer during an interview, said all the regulars have nicknames such as Wolfman, Tree Monkey I, Tree Monkey II, Hillbilly and Tin Man. Teens are not allowed to drink alcohol and must clear out by 10 p.m., he said.

Only about 10 people and a German Sheppard named Blue live there permanently in the summer. All have jobs and other homes. Chores are divided up. Someone delivers wood for their fires and another man picks up the trash once a week.

"Mothers bring their kids down here," said Mr. Woods, who grew up in Odenton and used to swim in the Little Patuxent River as a child. "We built stairs down to the water. We built a ramp because two people in wheelchairs wanted to get their feet wet.

"The kids come here and get help," he said, quoting a long and rambling passage from the Bible. "People come here for the peace, for somebody to talk to and not be bothered. There is no other place in Maryland where you can have this."

Capt. Tim Bowman, commander of the Western District police station, said there have been few criminal complaints involving the squatters. The inhabitants, or visitors, do walk up to the Piney Orchard Ice Arena, where the Washington Capitals practice, to use the phones and sometimes the bathrooms or showers.

Captain Bowman said he met with Pops and Kid recently, but wonders if he and his officers are getting the truth. "I'm sure that we will find that some of them are really homeless," he said. "It is illogical that people would choose to live this way."

He said others may live with relatives in the winter, and not have homes of their own.

"They told us they were just people camping on the banks of the Patuxent," the captain said, "and that they will be gone once winter comes."

Indeed, the inhabitants interviewed said they are busy packing up for the season. But they vowed to be back next year.

"I want to come down and put my feet in the water, throw in a fishing line and drink a beer," Kid said. "You can't do that in Ocean City."

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