Fort Smallwood Park enjoys a renaissance after renovations

County goes fishing for visitors at pier

May 04, 2007|By Bradley Olson and Nina Sears | Bradley Olson and Nina Sears,sun reporters

The fishermen were quiet, but jubilant.

After all, it's prime fishing season, and for the first time since Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003 ravaged a favorite fishing pier at Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena, they got to drop their earthworm-laden hooks into the rocky brackish waters of the Patapsco River.

The rebuilt $490,000 pier opened unofficially Tuesday, the latest in a multimillion-dollar cleanup project orchestrated by Anne Arundel County after the park was left in disarray for decades by Baltimore City.

"This is my first time here since it opened," said Jim Smith, 70, of Ferndale. "This is wonderful now. Before, it was so trashy-looking, with trees and garbage laying around everywhere."

Anne Arundel County took over the park from Baltimore City in January 2006 with a nonmonetary 45-year lease and 30-year option. Since then, the park has taken in record crowds, exceeding 1,000 on some of the milder fall and winter weekends.

None of the remnants of its decay - playground sets left to rot in the river, discarded drug paraphernalia and buildings with peeling lead paint - are left.

A giant play area sits in the center of the 100-acre complex in northeastern Anne Arundel County.

Barracks built at the turn of the 20th century when the fort was one of many defending the harbor could be turned into offices as part of the county's master plan for the renovation of Fort Smallwood and other area parks, officials said.

The county spent $1 million on the cleanup, removing hundreds of dead or dying trees, decrepit restrooms and concession stands (only portable toilets remain).

Baltimore City paid $457,300 for design and construction of the new pier, and the county spent an additional $30,000 to make it handicap accessible.

"It's a most welcome development," said County Executive John R. Leopold, who opened the pier early before a May 20 ribbon-cutting so anglers could take advantage of prime rock-fishing season. "It's a great facility, and many more people will use it."

Leopold said the county is still developing a master plan for managing Fort Smallwood Park and Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Park, a 232-acre waterfront area a quarter-mile away. He had few details about the plan, except to say "any plans decided upon will be made after conversation with area residents."

In addition to officially opening the pier, the county will also waive entry fees at Fort Smallwood on May 20 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Capt. John Smith's exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and hold a "wade-in," where state and county officials step into the water to draw attention to the need for improving water quality.

John Marshall, chief of park operations in the county, said the original pier, which had been used by supply ships and steamboats that would bring people from the county to Baltimore, was on its last leg before Isabel hit.

"Things went downhill about 10 to 15 years ago," he said, noting that the city agreed to rebuild the pier as a condition of the county taking over the park. "After they finished, there were a number of tripping hazards and potholes on the concrete walkway to the pier, and we made that handicapped-accessible."

Nobody at the end of the 300-foot pier had caught anything but perch yesterday morning, but Ed Brown wasn't complaining. He has fished at Fort Smallwood Park for 30 years, and said that since Isabel struck, he had to go out on a nearby jetty.

"Anything you catch in this creek, you put it in a closet to see if it glows," he joked, noting that he always throws back what he catches because the waterways by the pier are polluted. "I wouldn't eat this stuff."

David Tran and his wife, Diana, spent the morning surveying the new pier and the panoramic view of Baltimore, the Chesapeake and city landmarks like the Key Bridge and Sparrows Point.

"I heard this week that it had opened, and we wanted to come by and take a walk," said Tran, a Pasadena resident. "It's beautiful."

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