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Franklin Point: Opening soon

Parkland saved from developers will allow rare water access

February 11, 2015

E.B. Furgurson III, The Capital


Nearly 20 years ago, south county residents stopped a 156-home development from gobbling up 477 acres of nearly pristine wooded land off Deep Creek and its marshy confluence with the Chesapeake Bay.


Now Franklin Point State Park is nudging closer to opening up to the public for the first time since the Maryland Department of Natural Resources eventually acquired the property from the stymied developer in 1999.


It has taken cooperation between activists, the Maryland Park Service and West/Rhode Riverkeeper to get it done.



"This was saved to stay a natural area," said Mike Shay, one of the residents who organized South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development. "SACReD was founded to save this property."


And now their dream and the vision of others is finally coming to pass — sort of.


The only definite plans for the park are to tear down an abandoned house along the shore of Deep Creek and create a canoe and kayak launching area on that spot, along with a few picnic tables for quiet, passive use.


Later some of the paths and trails will be improved for hiking.


This summer, once the house has been demolished and the area stabilized, there could be some access to that area. The boat launch won't come until next summer.


Franklin Point is under the Maryland Park Service and Ranger Steve McCoy, who also runs Sandy Point State Park.


Because of tight budgets and other considerations, McCoy sought a local nonprofit organization to partner with to monitor and maintain the area. Last winter the West/Rhode Riverkeeper stepped in to take on a "friends of Franklin Point" role.


"We have successfully worked with community organizations at several parks around the state," McCoy said. "Now that the West/Rhode Riverkeeper is affiliated with us, they can apply for grants and all the things we would need to continue to develop and maintain the area."


He said he likes to get communities involved in their local parks. "I want them to feel it part of their community, that they have the ability to enjoy it and work with us to keep it maintained and safe."


Riverkeeper Jeff Holland said it was a good fit.


"Part of our new strategic plan is to expand access to waterways," he said.


The county Waterways Access Committee is pushing for the same thing. Committee board member Mike Lofton just happens to be on the board of West/Rhode as well. And the groups converged around the effort to make Franklin Point and its car-top boat launch a reality.


"Look, the message is simple. The whole Chesapeake Bay needs more people to fall in love with it," Lofton said. "People do that by coming in contact with it, seeing it, feeling it, swimming in it, kayaking around it. And if they love it, they will do something to help save it."


The idea at Franklin Point is to keep the human footprint soft and light.


"I don't envision any development there other than passive use by a few people," he said. "I don't anticipate Franklin Point will be heavily used or visited by more than a few people at a time."


County backs out


The first steps toward that scant activity was a long time coming.


Once SACReD stopped the proposed development, and withstood a $5 million lawsuit filed by the developer against members of the organization, their attention turned to the county Department of Recreation and Parks.


The original notion was for the county to take over the park property from DNR, but only after a public management plan process set a course of action. A plan was completed in 2004.


But the public and many active members who fought to save the area did not like the plan to build lighted all-purpose fields, with parking and auxiliary structures that the county pushed. Many area residents supported the need for ballfields.



In May 2005, the state Critical Area Commission said ballfields and associated parking were not allowed in wetland areas of the property, and the county backed out of the deal, leaving DNR holding the property.



'Best of the best'


And so the 477 acres sat largely unused, except by wildlife.


During a visit to the property Tuesday, a couple dozen Canada geese and tundra swans paddled around Deep Creek before taking flight, four or six at a time. A blue heron glided above the reeds.


"This is the best of the best and the last of the last the county has to offer," Shay said of the land, water and view.

Dick Worth, a conservationist who has been active in grass roots efforts in south county and elsewhere, said the flora and fauna around Franklin Point is comparable to the prized Parkers Creek Natural Area in Calvert County.


"It's nicer, some say," he said.


McCoy said the park is a blank slate.


"And through well-coordinated planning, we can create a park everyone will enjoy," he said.