A lifelong walk in the park

Honor: A visitors center is named for a man who has volunteered for years at North Point State Park.

December 10, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Clarification

In an article yesterday about longtime North Point State Park volunteer Steve Takos, quoted remarks by C. Ronald Franks, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, should have been attributed to a prepared statement.

Steve Takos can laugh now, recalling his days as a pin boy working for a nickel a game at the old Bay Shore Park bowling lanes on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

He was 14 then. "They would tip you by tossing coins down the alley," Takos recalled. "You'd go out to gather up the change, and here comes a ball rocketing toward you. It just made you quick on your feet."

Born in the rural countryside near Edgemere in eastern Baltimore County, Takos has left his beloved waterfront home for a long period of time only once -- during naval service in World War II when he was stationed on the Pacific island of New Guinea. To him, the bouquet of an autumn wood and memories of the old park with its elegant Edwardian touches and teeming wildlife never lost their collective magic.

Takos will turn 80 the day after Christmas, but he still goes to work nearly every day among the 1,300 acres of trees and marshland in North Point State Park, which includes the former Bay Shore property. He is a ranger volunteer, one of the longest-serving among the State Forest and Park Service's estimated 8,500 volunteers.

Now Takos' love of the land has received official recognition: The state has named the park's visitors center in his honor.

C. Ronald Franks, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said Friday at the dedication of the Takos Visitor Center: "This is a time of year it is always nice to recognize the generosity of others, and today we thank Steve Takos for his countless hours of hard work and dedication at North Point State Park.

"He is an invaluable asset to the state," Franks said as Takos, surrounded by his wife and two sons, looked on. "The beauty one finds at the park is his legacy."

People who know him say Takos is familiar with nearly every inch of the park.

"Well, not every inch," he said. "But I can tell you where the best catfish are, the best duck blinds, how to read a storm. And my wife, Mamie, can cook duck five different ways; she's out of this world."

Mamie, 75, works as a housekeeper at the visitors center, built last year on the foundation of the Bay Shore Park restaurant. It features classrooms, a conference center, displays of wildlife and memorabilia from the park, including engraved plates upon which bountiful seafood suppers -- soft-shelled crabs, oysters, rockfish and vegetables -- were served for 75 cents.

Takos is as comfortable teaching a busload of schoolchildren about how eagles nest as he is leading a group of seniors around the park, showing them where Baltimoreans frolicked nearly a century ago. "As much as I like nature, those were the days, when Bay Shore Park was up and running," Takos said. "Between the woods, the water and the park, it was like growing up in my own fantasy land."

One of two children, he became a strong swimmer, crabbed and was navigating local waters in a rowboat by age 10.

Bay Shore Park opened in 1906 as one of the Chesapeake Bay's now-forgotten playlands. Baltimoreans escaping the heat of the city flocked to the park, site of an amusement park, a large Edwardian-style bathhouse with attendants, a dance hall, bowling alley and the Crystal Pier, which offered the best location to take in airplane races or bay breezes.

"They came into the park at the rate of 1,000 people an hour, mostly by trolley, some by boat," Takos said. "They even had a swing that went out over the water. For me, setting pins was fun and profitable. I'd walk away each day with 70 or 80 cents, not counting tips."

Across nearby Jones Creek, the Pennsylvania Steel Co. began making steel in the late 1880s. Then Bethlehem Steel Co. bought the plant and expanded, buying up the Bay Shore Park property in 1946.

"My father worked there, everybody's father worked there, and I spent some time in the tin mill when I came home from the Pacific after the war," he said. "I was filling box cars with nails, wire but I married Mamie in 1946 and took a job with the Veterans Administration," where he worked with the wounded and sick at hospitals and facilities until he retired in 1975.

When Bethlehem Steel bought the sprawling Bay Shore tract, Takos continued to interact with nature in the area by working as a guide for steel executives. Some wanted to fish, some wanted to bag ducks and some just enjoyed hiking the land. Takos knew where to take them.

"I had to build a boardwalk out to some of the marshland blinds so they wouldn't get their feet wet," Takos said.

In 1970, Takos needed money to fly to Greece and visit his sick mother, Despina. He didn't turn to a bank. He called on Mother Nature.

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