Anne Arundel County officially opened a new water access point Wednesday in Shady Side, an offshoot of a citizen-led effort to increase public access to bodies of water.
More than 70 residents and county officials attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Shady Side Park, and officials said attendees brought more than 30 kayaks to give the new facility a test drive.
The access point — on Parish Creek, which feeds into the West and Rhode rivers — offers enthusiasts a place to put in their kayaks, canoes, inner tubes and paddleboards. County Parks Administrator Mark Garrity said the Department of Recreation and Parks doesn't advise swimming there because officials are not familiar with the depth of the water.
The site was recommended last winter by the Water Access Committee, a group of volunteers and recreation and parks officials who look for low-cost ways to improve public water access in the county.
Mike Lofton, a Harwood resident who chairs the committee, called it a group of more than 100 active "kindred spirits" — kayakers, boaters and nature lovers — who have come together to promote greater access to the county's water resources.
Members say there aren't enough access points in a county with more than 500 miles of shoreline, and Garrity said the panel is working with county officials to pin down potential sites for new spots for the least cost. The committee's goals, according to its page on the county website, include creating at least one location for access to waterfront on each side of each major river in Anne Arundel County, and establishing partnerships with businesses and other governments to promote additional access.
Garrity said the Shady Side site was a good addition — and an inexpensive choice because it only required creating a mulch path, filling a few holes in the ground and trimming tree limbs. Future sites might require more work and funding, especially in areas where the shoreline is steeper, he said.
Officials say that from the access point at Shady Side Park, paddlers can reach a view of a working watermen's village and Discovery Village, home of the West and Rhode Riverkeeper. Paddlers can also reach the beaches of the Shady Cove Natural Area, a peninsula on the West River.
A mile and a half from Shady Side Park is Jack Creek Park, an access point the county opened last fall, Garrity said.
Lofton said Shady Side is a spot that could be part of a "water trail" network reaching to the Calvert County line. The committee envisions eight to a dozen such spots along the trail.
He said he's optimistic about getting more water access in Anne Arundel, noting that the county is to break ground in September on a new boat launch at Fort Smallwood. The momentum stems, in part, from the work of the Water Access Committee.
"What's been missing in the past is an advocacy group," Lofton said. "We're persistent."
He said the group promotes the county's water legacy not only for health and quality of life issues, but for tourism, economic impact and to promote awareness of water quality and bay preservation. He said an election year is an opportune time for the committee to make its case.
"I'm trying to encourage our group to become politically active," he said, "and let our elected officials know that this is important."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jim Joyner contributed to this article.