SCOTLAND -- Sung Oh, of Gaithersburg, unloads fishing equipment from his Chevrolet van on a macadam parking lot at the Point Lookout State Park fishing pier.
"We come down for fishing and sometimes to picnic," Mr. Oh says. He looks out into the spring haze onto the park's 700-foot fishing pier extending into the Chesapeake Bay. "I have three kids with me," he says, "my daughter, my nephew and their friend, all 14. They're out there trying to catch some fish."
Philip Martin, of Crawfordsville, Ind., carries a 35mm camera with a telephoto lens. He's on the Potomac River side of the park, angling for a close-up of an osprey nesting atop the remains of an abandoned pier.
Mr. Martin and his wife, Pam, are with their daughter and son-in-law, Lori and Jerry Walters of Baltimore. "We all come down together when we come back East," he says.
Down the causeway, a young couple with a telescope mounted on a tripod watch mallards and other waterfowl fly in and out of Lake Conoy.
Nature and natural beauty are the prime appeal of this park on the southern tip of St. Mary's County. Scotland, the nearest community, has a post office, a few businesses and a few homes; Ridge, a few miles north, has the same, but otherwise we're talking country.
Despite the isolation of the park, which is about 2 1/2 hours' driving time from Baltimore, it is popular.
"We had about 325,000 visitors in 1992 and 26,000 campers," says Keith Frere, the park manager.
On weekends the park's 143 campsites fill up quickly.
"We take reservations," he says. "It's best to call beforehand. We've been filled up for Memorial Day weekend since mid-April."
"On most summer weekends, we close the camp sites off by 11 a.m.," says Mike Brown, a park ranger.
If you're driving, there's one way in and out of Point Lookout State Park. The tip of the peninsula stops where the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay blend. The land lies low and marshy, and you always feel the presence of water. Brackish Lake Conoy lies in the middle, separated from bay and river by strips of land.
The park is about 500 acres, Mr. Frere says, but the state last year completed the purchase of land joining the park's northeast portion that will double its size.
"We're now developing a plan on how to use the new section," Mr. Frere says. "The property has a lot of farmland, woodland and wetlands."
Even though the park is enjoying increased popularity, Point Lookout has attracted visitors since before the Civil War. In those days, it had a hotel and cottages, and visitors came from Baltimore, Washington and Norfolk, Va.
During the war, a Union hospital operated there, and after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, in which the Union captured many Confederate soldiers, 20 acres of the site became a prison camp built for 10,000 prisoners.
In 1962, Maryland acquired 495 acres that became Point Lookout State Park. The visitor center has a museum dedicated to the area's Civil War role. (The museum is free, open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.; after Memorial Day it will be open seven days a week.)
There's plenty of beach for sunbathing and picnicking, but fishing remains the big attraction, Mr. Frere says. The fishing pier, which also has a 100-foot wing, was completed in 1990, and blue fish are a favorite catch. Piers are open 24 hours a day, and there is no charge to fish.
F: For more information, call the park at (301) 872-5688.