All things snakehead conquer community

Frankenfish: Crofton residents have a good time with the story of the predator in a local pond.

July 13, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

At the Crofton Swim & Tennis Club pool, kids have a new name for their favorite game of tag: "Snakehead."

Nearby, at Rick's American Grill, the chefs are joking about renaming a lunch special for the sharp-toothed predator that has overtaken a local pond. "Try the snakehead. It'll walk off your plate," suggests chef Ian Allen.

Ever since the ferocious northern snakehead turned up in a weed-clogged pond behind Dunkin Donuts along Route 3, everybody in this bedroom community is trading stories about the Eastern interloper.

Some have dubbed it Frankenfish. Others call it the X-Files Fish. Whatever its name, Crofton seems destined to be intertwined with its snakehead. And so the town, which has made headlines as far away as London and China, has decided to have some fun with it.

"At work, we talk about it all the time," Greg Mills, a letter carrier, said at the nearby doughnut shop yesterday morning.

Computer sales consultant Jamie Haag said he spends a good part of his day fielding questions from co-workers at his Washington office about what he calls the "terrorist fish."

Media darling

News organizations began converging on Crofton last month after authorities announced that a snakehead had been caught in - then tossed back into - the pond. The native of the Yangtze River region of China can grow to the size of a small child, walk on its fins, and survive on land for three days. Because authorities feared that the fish would make its way into nearby waterways and devour other fish, they launched efforts to contain it.

Fascination with the fish quickly spread, as CNN, network news programs, even Regis and Kelly covered the fish-hunt.

All the media hype has been a lot of attention for a town that treasures privacy.

`Bedroom community'

Spiro T. Agnew opened an office here when he wanted to lie low after resigning the vice presidency in disgrace. Several Washington Capitals hockey players live in Crofton; the team has practiced nearby at the Piney Orchard Ice Rink.

"When they say this is a bedroom community, that's pretty much what they mean," said Sue Bents, the longtime administrative assistant at Crofton's Town Hall.

Founded in 1962 as a private community, Crofton, in western Anne Arundel County, was once gated on all sides. Early residents acknowledge that it was a segregated town. By 1969, the gates opened, and Crofton became a special benefits tax district with its own police force. Though its country club remains, few residents are aware of the community's exclusive past.

Now, most move in for the good schools, the family-oriented events - Easter egg hunts, Christmas tree lightings, veterans' parades, and free summer concerts on the village green - and its proximity to Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington.

Good times

Since 1990, Crofton's population has nearly doubled to more than 20,000 - most of it outside the original triangle's boundaries. But it's still the kind of town where nearly every house has a flag, where police rap on residents' doors at midnight if they notice a garage is left open, and where joggers stop into Town Hall to down a glass of ice water and catch up on local scoops.

And why shouldn't Crofton, which has had less pleasant brushes with the media in the past, have its fun with the Moby Dick of fish stories?

Two years ago, Crofton was in the news for a bitter fight over a front-yard fence that a woman built, in violation of neighborhood covenants. Last year, it drew attention when a young soccer referee reported that parents from the Crofton Hot Shots, an under-14 team, followed her to her car and harassed her for making unfavorable calls.

Snakehead fever

"I'd rather be known for a killer fish than for aggressive parents," said Richard R. Trunnell, former president of the Crofton Civic Association and a lawyer who practices in Crofton.

At the pool, Trunnell's daughter, Elisabeth, 7, has taken to shouting "snakehead" instead of "Marco Polo" when she plays with her friends.

Others have renamed "Sharks and Minnows" for the invader. With the snakehead around, sharks no longer cut it on the ferocious scale.

"Somebody's `it,' and then they try to swim after the other fishes and grab their leg," said 8-year-old Anna Nicholson, who played "Snakehead" in the pool yesterday with her sister, Katie, and some other friends.

Trunnell said some of the other parents considered changing the swim team's name from the Crofton Cats to the Crofton Snakeheads - better for competing against teams with more fear-inducing names, such as the Bolton Hill Barracudas.

But most Crofton Cats parents rejected the idea - T-shirts have already been printed.

Sitting at her Town Hall desk covered with newspaper clippings, Bents laughs about the staying power of the snakehead story.

"It's a little levity breaker," she said. "With everything that's going on, you hear about a fish story - you can almost laugh at that."

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