Getting in shape for summer

Beach: Sandy Point park employees and midshipmen find that preparing for a season of fun in the sun is hard work.

April 13, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Yesterday, the beach at Sandy Point State Park presented a peaceful tableau: birds buoyed by nippy gusts of wind, the silent span of the Bay Bridge filling the cloud-streaked horizon beyond.

On Saturday, however, the scene will change drastically as hundreds of anglers arrive for the start of rockfish season. From then on, the park, one of the state's most popular Chesapeake Bay destinations, will play host to hordes.

"This is the calm before the storm," said Kenny Hartman, assistant park manager, who spent yesterday morning combing the park's waterfront with two dozen Naval Academy volunteers. The midshipmen, with the help of five park employees, cleared the beach of large pieces of driftwood and debris.

But the beach cleanup is just one part of the prep work. Spring is one of the busiest times of the year for the Sandy Point staff, 13 of whom work year-round to keep the park in shape. Although the summer countdown begins in January with the overhaul of all vehicles, including a tractor named Big Red, staffers start to feel the crunch in mid-April.

With Memorial Day and the end of school weeks away, they know the crowds will arrive soon.

The Sandy Point spring cleaning list includes toilets - the tanks of which must be drained of biodegradable anti-freeze - and miles of plumbing, all of which must be clog-free. Tree care, pruning and removal also take time.

Piers and boardwalks must be surveyed for rusty nails and rotting planks. Roads must be restriped and signs waxed to protect them from salty air.

"Sometimes it seems overwhelming," said Rodney Staab, maintenance chief. "But we always pull together."

At the beach cleanup yesterday, the midshipmen walked the beach in gray Navy sweat shirts and camouflage fatigues. As they walked, they stooped to gather armfuls of water-soaked logs and sticks. The beach is particularly messy this year because officials at the Conowingo dam on the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties opened the floodgates recently.

"Basically, we're picking up after Pennsylvania," Hartman said.

The midshipmen cleaned the beach, as well as several rock jetties, in three hours. Some of what they found in the sand was not pleasant.

Hayley Edmondson, 20, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who is in her third year at the academy, tucked a bleach container and soft-drink bottles into an old flower pot.

"It's pretty disgusting," she said.

But Edmondson and other members of the group said they enjoyed the outing and the spectacular views.

"It's very pretty out here," said Tasha Dorsey, 21, of Clinton who is in her second year at the academy.

As she made small piles of trash and bleached logs for pickup by a crew of midshipmen in a truck, Dorsey recalled a trip she made to Sandy Point a few years ago.

She and some friends ran in the sand and soaked up the summer sun, Dorsey said.

Beach fun is one reason the park - which on summer weekends collects $4 a person at the gate - is so popular.

Hartman, the assistant park manager, said that summer crowds typically gather before 6 a.m. to snap up prime picnic areas. A hot and humid weekend in July is sure to bring out a crowd, he said. On a good weekend, the park attracts 5,000 to 8,000 people, most of them from the Baltimore or Washington areas.

"We get all types," said Staab, who knows how to say knife and gun in several languages. A big part of every staff member's job is keeping the peace among beach-goers. Staff members carry radios and use codes such as delta for a lost child or alpha for a lost parent. As they patrol the park, they see family groups playing cricket, rugby or softball.

"Some people cook hamburgers, others cook ground-up grass shrimp patties," Staab said.

Once the crowds arrive at Sandy Point, which opened in 1952 to address a need for public beaches on the Chesapeake Bay, the schedule for staff members, including 23 seasonal workers, is even more chaotic. Barbecue grills and pans must be cleaned, foot baths cleared of sandy residue and picnic areas tidied.

"Mainly, we just try to keep up," Staab said, referring to the behind-the-scenes work that is necessary to prepare for the next day's onslaught of beachcombers.

Staff members with the state Department of Natural Resources, which runs the 786-acre park, refer to it as a testing ground for future leaders.

Staab said: "They say that if you can handle the crowds and the work at Sandy Point, you can handle it anywhere."

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