From the road that leads to North Point State Park, a.k.a. Black Marsh, the smokestacks of Bethlehem Steel belch grayish gas into the sky. It is a metaphor for the conflict raging over one of the last pristine pieces of land on the Chesapeake Bay. Black Marsh is an intricate mosaic of marshes, woodlands, hiking and biking trials -- home to a wondrous diversity of plants, animals and birds. Quiet. Peaceful. Unspoiled. So why would anyone want to roll bulldozers over 20 acres of this land, drive in piles and pour cement to build a 350-seat amphitheater, an eatery, 50 boat-tie ups and a huge parking lot?
The state Department of Natural Resources says it is because development would make the area more accessible to the public. But the park is already accessible to the public -- free. What it isn't, however, is commercialized. It isn't generating revenue for business, either. Aside from the bigger-is-better arguments, the DNR also has nostalgia on its side. Bay Shore Park once stood there -- a glorious part of Baltimore's past. But this debate is not about the past. It is about the future. Today, with 97 percent of the bay's coastline developed and Marylanders worried about the environment, DNR's arguments are substantially weakened. Moreover, the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh has outlined the environmental consequences with clarity: Development could threaten not only the integrity of the 20 acres but also the delicate fabric of the environment in the adjacent "protected area."
In deference to growing citizen concern, the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission says now that he will appoint a panel to study the state's plans, and hold a public hearing in Baltimore County. Good. We hope these efforts will at last acknowledge that this unique area must be protected and give the administration a way to beat a graceful retreat.