A year after a Glen Burnie man jumped from a popular rock formation and drowned in the Little Patuxent River near Savage, Howard County police are beefing up patrols against swimming and drinking in the area's alcohol-free park.
County fire and rescue services say one or two people drown each year at the rapids below the area known as Savage Rocks, usually after disregarding the signs that prohibit drinking and swimming.
"We have started a high visibility effort to prevent the drinking, the swimming and the jumping off the rocks . . . to try to prevent any more serious things from happening," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a spokesman for the Howard County Police Department. "Whenever we get the opportunity, we send extra patrols down there."
But the patrols seemed to be having little effect this week on the teen-agers and adults who jumped from the rocks and played in the green-tinted pools off Gorman Road and Foundry Street, behind the Historic Savage Mill.
One afternoon, visitors hid cans and bottles in brown bags and sipped away, tucking the containers in the water by a rock when an officer happened by.
Looking out over a sparse crowd that gathered to sunbathe and frolic in the water earlier this week, Howard County Officer Frank Mort said, "There's always some . . . stuff down here, open bottles and things like that."
Officers can issue citations for swimming in forbidden areas that carry fines of up to $50.
The illicit drinking bothers some long-time users of the area, who resent both the litter and fact that such conduct has drawn HTC official attention to what was once an informal neighborhood swimming spot.
"A few little punks, they ruin it for the regular working guy who just wants to come down here to relax," said Scott Daniels of Laurel, who has been coming to the area for 13 years. "Beer bottles and beer cans. It's sickening.
"You've got to wear shoes in the water now because of the glass. It's not safe."
The added scrutiny comes as the popular stretch of river is expected to draw even more people, now that the state Department of Natural Resources has stocked it with 1,500 brown and rainbow trout.
In addition to Howard County's patrols, the Natural Resources Police walk the park's trails, seeking anglers fishing without licenses, alcohol and drug use and littering. Trout catch is limited to two fish per person per day.
This is a very pretty river," said Officer Cathy Jones, of the state Natural Resources Police as she walked the trails earlier this week. "It's also dangerous."
Those dangers were illustrated most dramatically last June 19, when 22-year-old George Daniel Snyder died at Savage Rocks. The Glen Burnie man's friends told police he had been drinking and leapt from a favorite makeshift diving platform on the rocks about 2 a.m. His body was found five hours later more than 100 feet downstream.
Three days earlier, a 20-year-old woman, who said she had no fixed address, slipped off a rock and was swept 150 to 200 feet down the river before she grabbed another rock. It took 40 county firefighters 1 1/2 hours to rescue her from the rain-swollen river.
"People need to think about being careful and being with somebody," said Lt. Ken Byerly, a spokesman for the Howard County Fire Prevention Bureau.
But the dangers don't deter thrill-seekers such as 15-year-old Robert Wheeler of North Laurel. Earlier this week, he stood at the pinnacle of a favorite rock formation where he suffered a minor injury last year.
"Do it, Rob! Do it, Rob!" a friend shouted, egging him on.
Below him, a bubbling pool awaited. "There's only one spot you can land in, or else you'll hit a rock," Robert says. "It's a thrill. It's like a way of getting attention. I just hope I remember where that hole is."