For Arundel anglers, a first

County now has a public fishing pier, after club led drive for $330,000 facility


Anytime George Bentz wants to drop a line or just appreciate his water views, he walks out onto his pier on the Marley Neck Peninsula.

"I have all the facilities I need," he said.

Though Anne Arundel County boasts 530 miles of shoreline, pier access is a luxury mostly limited to people who live along the waterfront or in beach communities. Until three weeks ago, the county had only one public pier.

With Bentz's help, that has changed.

This weekend, county officials planned to celebrate the formal opening at Downs Park in Pasadena of a 300-foot T-shape pier, the first in the county specifically designed for fishing.

The pier is handicapped-accessible, offering views of the Eastern and Western shores and of the Bay Bridge, about eight miles south.

"This pier was built for us," said Calvin Wootton, a resident of Sillery Bay since 1946, raising his walking cane. Wootton added that he was impressed with the pier's size. "You can run an automobile on this."

Bentz and his organization, the Pasadena Sportfishing Group, mounted a petition drive in 2000 to build a public pier. Midshipmen at the Naval Academy designed the plans, and construction on the $330,000 project, paid by the state and county, began less than a year ago.

"We pushed hard to get that pier," Bentz said. "We are celebrating that thing coming in."

The Pasadena Sportfishing Group, the largest fishing club in the state, planned to do just that yesterday, organizing a fishing derby for more than 200 children as part of a county celebration that was to include Dennis Callahan, county recreation and parks director.

"They deserve all the credit in the world," Callahan said Friday of the sportfishing group's efforts.

The only other public pier access in the county is in Deale, but that's not suited for fishing. Baltimore is expected to oversee construction of a fishing pier at Fort Smallwood Park, the Baltimore-owned facility that has come under county control. The pier was destroyed in 2003 by Tropical Storm Isabel.

Beyond that, there's a public pier at Fort Armistead Park in Baltimore and at least one on Kent Island.

The pier's construction is part of an initiative by County Executive Janet S. Owens and Callahan to promote public access to the waterways. The Downs Park access also provides easy fishing for 199 rod-holders.

"It's one thing to go out and look at the bay," Callahan said. "It's another thing to participate in what the bay has to offer. Fishing has been a very important part of Maryland life."

The pier has been open for more than two weeks, and anglers have been nibbling.

Bo Furguson, a West Baltimore resident, caught wind of the pier's opening while fishing at Fort Armistead. He also regularly fishes at Fort Smallwood.

Furguson headed to Downs for the first time Friday morning and dropped three fishing lines. He was rewarded with 25 white perch and a catfish.

"I'm definitely coming out here again and bringing the family," Furguson said.

Milton and Shirlemae Duvall, both 70, live in the nearby community of Mount Carmel. They visit the park almost daily and have watched the pier come to form piece by piece. They just missed out being the first patrons to take a walk on it.

"We were 10 minutes behind the park ranger opening it up," Milton Duvall said.

The Duvalls were taking in the sun and the shore Friday with two grandchildren from Pennsylvania.

Milton Duvall called the pier a "perfect place" to drink a coffee, have a sandwich or chat with a stranger. Beyond his voice, the only sounds were of the water slapping on the rocky shore and the murmur of boats, on which fishermen were checking crab pots.

A low-flying Navy helicopter disturbed the tranquillity, but only for a moment.

"It's such a wonderful gathering place of family, friends and people of all ages," he said.

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