Park's changes hook fishing aficionados

Swan Harbor Farm's $900,000 project includes new pier, observation deck


Miguel Perez cast his fishing line into the Chesapeake Bay, one last attempt before he'd be on his way.

The Aberdeen man waited until he noticed a slight tug on the line before pulling it slowly out of the water. He had caught what he estimated to be about a 15-pound catfish.

"This is the biggest fish I've ever caught," he said taking out his cell phone and shooting a quick picture.

The hearty catch was due partly to luck, perhaps, but Perez also credited his location: the new pier at Swan Harbor Farm.

"This new pier gets me out further into the bay, and now I'm catching more fish and bigger fish," he said. "It's just great."

The new pier recently opened at Swan Harbor Farm, a 503-acre county park in Havre de Grace. The pier is part of a $900,000 project that began in December. Besides the 304-foot-long fishing pier, other improvements include a lighted stone walkway that connects to a formal garden, an observation deck, a gazebo and boat slips.

The park held a grand opening last month. But the storms and torrential downpours of the past couple of weeks have presented some formidable challenges for the staff at the new site.

When Conowingo Dam floodgates were opened during the storms two weeks ago, debris from the Susquehanna River collected at the pier, said Bob Lee Geddes, project manager.

"Garbage and other debris is caught up around the pier," said Geddes. "The pier juts far enough out into the bay that it stops the debris from going by. We knew this would happen; we just hoped it wouldn't be so soon."

Then, on Wednesday night, more than 2 1/2 inches of rain fell, creating a hole in the beach about 5 feet deep and 6 feet wide.

"We haven't closed the pier or anything, but we have safety concerns," said Geddes. "We don't want any young children falling in that hole."

But before the park staff can fill the hole, they are waiting for the water to recede before they try to fill the hole.

"We're not even into hurricane season yet, this is all from one little storm," said Geddes. "We have to be prepared for anything."

Geddes said he is considering applying for a grant to fund a $150,000 stone fill along the shoreline.

"A stone fill is environmentally friendly, and it will protect against erosion," said Geddes.

In the meantime, the park remains open, and the pier presents an inviting destination for anglers and walkers, sightseers and nature lovers.

"It's one of the few places in the county that offers public access to the Chesapeake Bay," said Craig Lanphear, the recreation specialist at Swan Harbor. "People can walk out here on the end of the pier and see things they weren't previously able to see. The view is just breathtaking."

Plenty of visitors to the park are coming for just that reason. Anne Kennedy of Forest Hill was on site shooting the spring catalog for the Ulla Popken women's apparel shop in Glen Arm, Baltimore County.

Kennedy scouted the location when she attended a wedding there the week after the opening.

"This place is absolutely great," Kennedy said. "It has everything. A vineyard, wildflowers, a gazebo and a fantastic view."

Perez, the angler from Aberdeen, has fished at Swan Harbor for years, usually standing along the shoreline. Although he says he's always had good luck catching fish there, the conditions off of the pier have been a huge upgrade.

"This is the best thing they could ever do for the guys like me that just like to fish," Perez said as he cleaned his catch of the day.

More improvements are in the works at the pier, Geddes said. He's working on installing running water and a fishing station, which could give anglers a place to clean the fish and their equipment without making a mess on the pier, he said. Those additions could be in place by Aug. 1.

"Right now, the fishermen are cleaning and gutting their fish on the pier and the blood and mess is getting all over the place," Geddes said.

Geddes also is envisioning longer-term improvements, including a permanent structure to replace the tent used for weddings.

The park books weddings every weekend from April through October. The ceremonies are outdoors and the receptions are in the tent. But in the case of inclement weather, the tent has to be taken down and put away.

"Taking that tent down and putting it up again is a lot of work," he said.

Even before the improvements, weddings were being booked at the park as early as 18 months in advance, said Geddes. And he expects demand to increase.

"People are actually canceling their church weddings to schedule them out here," he said. "We want to make sure they have their perfect wedding and a permanent building would help."

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