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Maryland

Police, neighbors gird for large summer crowds at Sandy Point

Cool weather and clouds kept many away Saturday from Sandy Point State Park, whuich has become a popular, and crowded, spot during the summer.

Sandy Point State Park has become one of the most popular destinations in the state park system, but it has also become a source of frustration for nearby residents and law enforcement who must endure the onslaught of summer visitors.

Sandy Point draws more than 1 million visitors a year, ranking behind only Assateague, Gunpowder Falls, and Patapsco Valley in visitors last year. But the park that looks out on the Bay Bridge can accommodate only about 5,000 people and often reaches capacity by 10 a.m., driving disappointed beachgoers and fishermen to spots just outside the park and in surrounding neighborhoods, where they wait until spaces open in the park.

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"People would just pull over to the side of the road and wait. It clogs up College Parkway," the main thoroughfare into the park, said Capt. Brian Rathgeb, who oversees the Maryland Natural Resources Police's southern region, which includes Sandy Point. "It's a terrible hazard and public safety issue," he said.

At a news conference last week, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare said the department would add four to six officers in addition to normal patrols to monitor traffic around the park, which often spills into nearby residential neighborhoods.

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County Executive Steve Schuh said the county has received complaints of visitors parking in prohibited areas in communities near Sandy Point and along the East College Parkway corridor.

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"They block the roads, sometimes two to three hours, so the residents are unable to get into their homes, emergency vehicles cannot get in, and the quality of life goes downhill when you don't have access to get into your house," said Barbara Hitchings, who lives on the Broadneck Peninsula.

While law enforcement agencies braced for a busy Memorial Day weekend, they were spared large crowds Saturday because of impending storms.

"A lot of it has to do with the forecast," said Mike Riley, Eastern and Southern Maryland regional manager for the state park system. He waited to greet guests in cars carrying stacked paddleboards or beach chairs; others had long trailers carrying powerboats.

In past years, visitors waiting to get into the park have backed up all the way to U.S. 50, he said. Often, by 10 a.m., the parking lot fills to capacity, and spots on the beach are quickly staked out with umbrellas and blankets. But by midmorning Saturday, the traffic had slowed to a trickle.

At the boat slips, Jack Power and Pat Fitzgerald, volunteers with the Natural Resources Police Reserve Officer Program, stopped to offer boat safety checks, making sure navigation lights were working properly and that boaters had enough life jackets for everyone on board.

Fisherman after rockfish or crabs had arrived early. Power estimated about 150 boats had launched in the morning. But by 9:30 a.m., crowds had fallen off.

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"This is a vacation today," Fitzgerald said of the sparse crowd.

Power looked at his phone and pointed to a radar screen tracking a storm to the west. The skies overheard were gray, but no rain had fallen.

At the beach, large sections of sand remained unclaimed.

"It's normally really crowded," said Kevin Castellanos, 13, of Annapolis, who had come with a group from his church, Iglesia Casa de Bendiciones in Severna Park.

The group of about 250 had set up large tents overlooking the beach.

Erica Venture, 26, said they usually try to grab a spot early before the park gets too crowded.

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"It's a beautiful place, and it's closer to where we leave," she said in Spanish, which Kevin translated.

Nearby, Ronald Flood, 37, watched over his 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old niece, who were running back and forth from the water to the beach.

They arrived around 10:30 a.m. but quickly found parking and a spot in the sand.

Flood, who lives in Charles County and was visiting the park for the first time, said he was surprised at how easy it was to get get to the park, and planned to come back.

"It's beautiful out here," he said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this article.

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jkanderson@baltsun.com

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