Play at your own pace, but take care of the place


Late each winter, there are weeks in which the weather plays in and out of character -- two days of warm rain, a day of sunshine and several more days of cooler temperatures and overcast skies as Arctic air flow and warmer air from the southeast push and shove toward spring.

The odd days, when the sun shines and the temperatures rise into the 60s, are the times that send some people out at noon, down to the creeks and river heads near small towns, fishing gear, pail of shiners or carton of night crawlers and a sandwich in hand.

It is a time of small celebrations, a time when the rivers and creeks begin to fill with panfish preparing to spawn and the bank fishermen begin to think again of shad darts and bobbers.

Last Tuesday was such a day -- a day that makes one want tget out into the parklands to fish, hike, bird-watch or simply to stop, look and listen, and, perhaps, to realize that for the moment all is not well in our parks.

Six miles north of Hillsboro, straddling the border of Caroline anQueen Anne's counties, stands Tuckahoe State Park, 3,500 acres of woods and wooded marsh that serves roughly five times the state average of visitors each year.

Tuckahoe State Park is among the roughly 25 percent oMaryland's parks that have been closed until July 1 or until a corps of volunteers can be recruited to reopen them sooner.

On Tuesday, upstream from the westernmost planked bridge on Crouse Mill Road, three wood ducks squawked and squabbled, climbing, banking, wheeling among the stumps and blow-downs, and comically chasing each other in and out of the bramble of the shoreline. Catbirds sped among the heavy thickets, and a woodpecker rapped vigorously on a hollow tree.

Along the western shore of Tuckahoe's 20-acre lake, bright, red and white bobbers hung just out of reach in the bramble, testimonials to fishermen who had passed this way before.

A hundred yards above the bridge, a bank fisherman pulled in two bass off a point due north of the small launch ramp. A few hundred yards east, a man and his son were fishing the far shore above the dam, their rods propped on forked sticks and their attention more attuned to a soccer ball than their baits.

In the spill pool beneath the small dam, pickerel were hitting night crawlers and minnows, and within 30 minutes six of them were hooked on shad darts and released. A fellow from Severna Park who stepped onto the concrete spillway as I was readying to leave hooked and released another four or five as I dawdled.

And that is what parks are, places in which to play at your own pace -- whether the game is bass fishing or soccer, birdwatching or fishing for pickerel. Parks also are places where people can give a little back in exchange for the pleasures they receive.

You can do as little as I do, which is to take the trash and fishing lines from the areas that I walk or fish -- whether the refuse is mine or left by others. Or you can do a lot, which is what the Forest and Parks Service hopes their volunteers will do.

In the case of Tuckahoe, there seems to be adequate interest. Some 75 people at a public hearing in Ridgely recently expressed interest in helping out in the park.

But at meetings for Cedarville in Prince George's County, Gathland in Washington County, Washington Monument in Frederick County, Calvert Cliffs in Calvert County and the McKeldin area of Patapsco Valley State Park, public interest has been limited.

These parks, as is Tuckahoe, are not among the state's premier parklands. The Forest and Parks Service said as much through its selection process in determining the 12 closures.

But Tuckahoe, as are the others, is a fine park in its own right.

In better times, boating with electric motors and fishing are allowed on the lake, and canoes can be rented from the park concessionaire.

L There are 71 improved campsites tucked away in the woodland.

Hunting is allowed on 1,000 acres in season.

Five hundred acres have been set aside as an arboretum.

There are trails for hiking, horseback riding and cross country skiing.

There are campfire talks and nature trails.

A showpiece it may not be, but it beats a parking lot or a shopping mall, and it, as could 11 other parks around the state, could use a little help from their friends.

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