Season draws to close at Rocky Point, other public beaches

Without drama or jellyfish, summer appeared to be winding down Sunday at Rocky Point Beach and Park.

Lifeguard chairs soon go into storage as the 2011 swimming season ends at the popular, 375-acre Essex public park. Today ends lifeguard service at most public beaches throughout the state, which offered a respite during brutal heat earlier in the season.

"This was a year when we were busier early in the summer," said Rocky Point manager Michael Sapp, a summer Baltimore County Recreation and Parks employee who also works as an elementary schoolteacher at Holabird Middle School in Dundalk.

"For the first time I can remember, we had to close the gates on Memorial Day weekend. We were at capacity," Sapp said as he reviewed the summer. "We had many crowded days. Not everyone has air conditioning, and the city had to close down some of its pools, which seemed to give us a boost."

Attendance dropped but didn't disappear during the summer's periods of inclement weather and downpours.

"People will still come in the rain," said lifeguard Justin Eisenhard, who attends Eastern Technical High School in Essex.

Park officials said their most faithful visitor was the suntanned man who sat at a picnic table overlooking the water.

"I come every day," said Kenny Yannacci, a retired Bethlehem Steel ironworker who lives nearby. "Summer went by fast this year, but they always do."

Yannacci is the park's unofficial weather chronicler. Each day he's at the park, he records the daily high temperature on a wood post on one of the park pavilions overlooking a broad expanse of the Back and Middle rivers and Hart-Miller Island.

He made his first entry Feb. 18 when he wrote down an unseasonable 74 degrees. The high for the summer was 103 degrees July 22, according to his figures. His chain of dates indicated he was a candidate for a park perfect attendance award.

"It was a hot summer," he said, quickly returning to his murder mystery book, one of the dozens he reads in solitude as he overlooks a body of water the navigational charts call Hawk Cove.

"I buy a season pass to the park," he said. "I've been coming here since the late 1960s. It's very relaxing."

Throughout Sunday morning, families continued to pass through the park's Rocky Point Road gates. Many arrived with grills, tables, folding chairs and red-checkered plastic tablecloths in wire carts and plastic wagons. While many set up chairs and towels on the compact bathing beach, others sought the shade of the adjoining waterfront picnic grove.

"This is a place where seniors and their grandbabies can enjoy themselves," said Angela Faltz, a Randallstown resident who was seated in a beach chair on the sand. "I like the smallness of the beach. It's quiet. It's a getaway."

Members of the extended Johnson, Darby and Wilson families arrived with enough food for the most obscure of third cousins who may have showed up for their traditional Labor Day weekend gathering.

"It is right around the corner from home," said Shirley Wilson, a retired Department of Defense informational tech specialist and Rosedale resident. "Gas is high and you can get here quick."

About 25 members of her family were coming for a lunch at the park, she said. She spent Saturday evening preparing aluminum trays of macaroni and cheese and baked beans. Other family members brought the banana pudding, grilled meats and other staples of the end-of-summer ritual.

"This is a day that is for our kids, our grandkids," Wilson said. "It's not about the lemon meringue pie, but we're having that, too."

Park manager Sapp said Rocky Point would remain open to fishermen in the fall and winter and to others who have booked it for special events.

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