At riverside camp, their party's over

May 17, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

A group of squatters that claimed a bend in the Little Patuxent River last summer will have to find a new waterfront retreat.

After an extensive review of maps and land records, the owner has been found. And the U.S. Army, which probably winces at the image of a bohemian spa on its premises, leaped into action.

Public works employees from Fort Meade have blocked off the access to the campsite with a metal railing and concrete barriers. Six signs warn: "U. S. Property. No Trespassing."

During last summer's warmest days, about 10 people staked a claim on the riverbank immediately south of the Piney Orchard Parkway bridge. They furnished their outdoor home with chairs and couches, and decorated the site with flowers.

Parties at the camp attracted 100 people or more. Some swam. Some drank beer. The campers built a wheelchair ramp so that two people in wheelchairs could get their feet wet.

The squatters, led by Doug "Pops" Woods, vowed they'd be back this spring.

But nearby residents said the camp was a nuisance, and police worried that criminals could blend in with the squatters.

But nobody took steps to close the camp because nobody was sure who owned the land: the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Fort Meade or someone else.

At the request of Councilman David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat, county officials sifted through deeds and titles to determine ownership.

Finally, the search shifted to Baltimore, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the property belongs to the U.S. Army.

A slip of the pen by a map-maker about 50 years ago left the riverbank in no man's land.

"The Fort Meade map was re-drawn in the early 1940s by the War Department to incorporate the land that had been acquired for range areas in the late 1930s and early 1940s," said Don McClow, a spokesman for Fort Meade.

"In the process of redrawing this map, approximately four acres on the east side of the railroad tracks were overlooked," he said.

The Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the maps and in January confirmed the accuracy of an older map.

A new map of the base is being drawn and should be finished this year, Mr. McClow said.

"I'm very pleased," said Mr. Boschert.

"I'm looking at it from a public safety perspective for individuals that live in the Piney Orchard area," he said.

Mr. Boschert praised the Army for acting quickly to close the camp and bring peace of mind to the neighborhood.

"We were very relieved to see that it was closed down," said Robert Strott, senior vice president of Constellation Real Estate Inc., developer of Piney Orchard. "I'm glad they finally resolved it."

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