It wasn't hard for Mark Weisberger of Pasadena to hook a 30-inch rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay one recent Saturday. The difficult part was getting his 22-foot powerboat into the water.
Anne Arundel County, with 432 miles of waterways cutting into its eastern boundary like jagged teeth, has more boats and more shoreline than any other county in Maryland -- and only two sites for public boat ramps, much to the chagrin of the recreational boating community.
County Executive John G. Gary, who grew up in the waterfront community of Green Haven, says he is looking at several possible sites for new boat ramps. All are in the northeastern part of the county; two are on Stony Creek and one is off Main Creek.
"We have all these boats that sit in people's driveways, and we've got to figure out a way to help people get them into the water," Mr. Gray said.
Mr. Weisberger, whose home is a 10-minute drive from two waterfront parks, has to drive 30 minutes south on Ritchie Highway, then out U.S. 50 to Sandy Point State Park to the nearest available boat ramp.
"I wish there was something closer," said Mr. Weisberger, a 33-year-old grocery store produce manager who lives moments from Downs Park and Fort Smallwood Park. "You'd think there would be, but there just isn't."
Other counties with fewer boats and less shoreline have far more ramps. Harford, with fewer than a quarter as many registered pleasure boats as Anne Arundel, has nine ramps.
Eastern Shore counties, with miles of undeveloped shoreline, have an abundance of ramps: Talbot has 14, Somerset has 15, and Dorchester has 15, the most of any county.
Kay Wilkins, a supervisor at the Talbot County Department of Recreation and Parks, said public launching ramps are part of the Eastern Shore culture.
"Around here, a lot of your people are watermen, born and raised on the water, and they've just always had ramps to use," she said.
The lack of ramps in Anne Arundel means boaters make longer trips to get to the water all around them and are more likely than their counterparts in other jurisdictions to be stuck in weekend traffic backups.
"It's a real sore subject. I've lived in Anne Arundel County for 35 years, and there's never been a place you could put your boat over but here," Richard Williams of Pasadena said this month after towing his boat out of the water at Sandy Point.
County officials and fishing enthusiasts have asked Baltimore to install a boat ramp at the city-owned Fort Smallwood Park, which lies in Anne Arundel about five miles south of the city line. City officials balked at the expense, arguing that the ramp would provide little benefit to city residents.
Anne Arundel's shortage has been caused at least partly by the way the county developed, government officials say. Over the past 50 years, much of the waterfront land was snapped up by people from Baltimore and Washington who built summer cottages, formed community associations and restricted water access to their association-owned beaches and boat ramps.
"In the early years, there wasn't a lot of demand for public waterfront activity because the people who came here for it had their own private facilities," said James J. Cannelli, assistant director of planning and zoning.
When waterfront land has become available, the residents of nearby communities have opposed plans for boat ramps, arguing that they wanted keep their streets and waterways as quiet as possible.
"The problem is that every time you propose one of these things, the people who live around them complain about the traffic," Mr. Gary said.
In 1992, members of the Pasadena Sportfishing Group lobbied county officials to install a boat ramp at Downs Park, a 238-acre park along the bay off Mountain Road. The proposal was shelved, in part because the shallow waters would have required expensive dredging and neighbors complained about the highway and boat traffic that a ramp would generate.
"We ran into a lot of problems with that community. The traffic was something they just didn't want," said George M. Bentz, a spokesman for the Pasadena Sportfishing Group who was involved in the effort to get the ramp installed.
County officials say community concerns about traffic are legitimate, given the pent-up demand for additional ramps, particularly along the northern shores. If the county built another boat ramp, it probably would be swamped with boat traffic the day it opened, they say.
Unsuccessful efforts in the past have left many Anne Arundel fishing enthusiasts fatalistic about their chances of landing additional ramps.
"I got kind of excited when they were talking about putting a
ramp in at Downs Park a few years ago, but then I wasn't that surprised when it fell through," Mr. Weisberger said.
At a meeting of the Pasadena Sportfishing Group last week, Mr. Bentz asked about 200 members at the Orchard Beach fire hall how many of them had trouble getting onto the water because of the shortage of public ramps.
About 60 hands went up.
Afterward, Edmund Ehatt of Glen Burnie said he lives about 10 minutes from the water but about 45 minutes from his favorite boat ramp at Sandy Point.
He said he has no trouble with traffic when he leaves home at 5:30 a.m. most weekends to get to Sandy Point. But the midday trip home, with his 22-foot powerboat in tow, can take at least 45 minutes, he said.
"Coming back, the traffic is just terrible," he said. "It's a pain in the neck."
These are the sites Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary is considering for new public boat launching ramps:
1. Green Haven Wharf, a small, county-owned parcel on Stony Creek at the end of Outing Road in Green Haven.
2. The Heckendorf property, 136 acres along Stony Creek owned by David L. Heckendorf, which is to be acquired by the county within a year.
3. An unnamed 110-acre property west of Maywood Road off Main Creek that is to be donated to the county.