There's a lot of chatter that goes into making the outdoors the kind of place we want it to be.
The harvest season this year extends to ideas, as planners and biologists hold hearings around the state to find out what we'd have them do with parks and other resources.
Sometimes, of course, it's all a dog-and-pony show or a requirement of law. You know how it goes: "Please speak into the microphone and state your name and address clearly for the record. This tape will be transcribed and placed with other testimony from tonight on a shelf in a dusty room at the Department of We Know Better."
But other times, something good does come from the give-and-take at a public meeting. Earlier this year, the Department of Natural Resources altered its deer-hunting proposal after hearing from sportsmen.
OK, it doesn't happen every day, but it does occur often enough that it's worth the effort.
For example, who would have thought that the top people at Grand Canyon National Park would want to hear what Marylanders think about their little hole in the ground?
Well, they do, and they care so much that they've flown from Flagstaff, Ariz., to be in Towson from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow to listen.
At issue is a 20-year tussle between do-it-yourself whitewater paddlers and commercial outfitters over who has dibs on Colorado River permits.
The canyon is a popular rafting spot, attracting 19,000 visitors each year. But the National Park Service hands out a finite number of permits to keep the river and canyon from looking like tailgating lots after a Terps football game.
The formula gives the money-making paddlers 70 percent of the permits and the regular folks 30 percent. As a result, someone can spend $2,300 and book a two-week commercial trip within a year while the waiting list for the regular folks - who spend an average of $850 for a trip - has reached 20 years.
Park superintendent Joe Alston is attempting to revise the permit plan and is looking for guidance. He hopes to have a decision by the end of 2004, which seems like a long time except when you compare it to the waiting list.
Stop by the Greenridge Hampton Room at Burkeshire Guest Suites and Conference Center, 10 W. Burke Ave. You may never take what's called "the adventure of a lifetime," but your ideas may help someone else.
More grand ideas
A heritage trail. Maybe interpretive centers. Perhaps preservation of a traditional fishing village.
Those are just a few of the possibilities being discussed as the National Park Service looks for a way to plant its flag along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
Congress asked the agency to see if there's some way it can help promote and protect the bay, so park planners held three workshops in Maryland and one in Virginia this month to see if people liked any of a half-dozen staff ideas or if they wanted to mix and match the concepts.
"They were jumping right in," says project manager Jonathan Doherty. "What comes out of the process may look quite a bit different than what we started with."
The last session was Thursday night in Annapolis, where about 60 people braved that little-seen element, rain, to take a crack at it.
Planners will take all they've heard and distill the information into a single proposal. Then it's back on the road in January for a series of workshops to further refine the report, which will be given to Congress in the spring.
"We're not really talking about designating the whole bay as a unit of the National Park Service," says Doherty. "It's not feasible to manage the Chesapeake Bay as a park."
You have until Friday to study the six options and offer suggestions at www.chesapeakestudy.org
Trout stream hearing
While you have your opinion caps on, the DNR wants to know how to manage a one-mile stretch of the upper Savage River just upstream from Poplar Lick.
Right now, the segment isn't stocked and is open year-round. It is adjacent to a 4.5-mile piece of the river that gets 9,500 hatchery trout annually.
Options for the new fishery include designating it a trophy area, put and take, catch and release or delayed harvest.
The meeting will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at New Germany State Park, exit 22 off I-68. If you can't make it, e-mail Steve Early at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ken Pavol, 301-334-8218.
This bears repeating: Tuesday night and Oct. 10, state officials will hear what anglers have to say about rockfish season. These meetings are the warm-up act to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in November, when next year's allocation and mortality targets will be set.
Some of our neighbors to the north would like to fill their creels at our expense, so it's important that we speak up.
The meeting Tuesday is at the Ramada Inn in Salisbury. Next week, the show moves to the Anne Arundel Community College Humanities Building off Ritchie Highway in Arnold. Both meetings are at 7 p.m.
Speak up or don't whine later.
Saving the bacon
Let's begin the week (and end this column) with a laugh provided by Scot McElveen, chief ranger at Harper's Ferry National Historic Park, who swears it's true. This is his official report to his bosses, verbatim:
"On Monday, Sept. 16, two visitors made a cellular phone call to the park and reported that they were being attacked by pigs in the Maryland Heights section of the park. Ranger Ryan Levins found the two visitors, who were uninjured, but shaken up.
"Investigation revealed that they'd avoided a noisy charge by six pigs by moving to cover and throwing a rock at them. They were able to provide accurate descriptions of their assailants, including length, color and types of snouts and tails.
"Levins located two of the assailants on an adjacent property owner's land, returned them to their pens and left a note for the owner asking that he repair his fence.
"At the time of the report, the other four assailants were still at large. An APB has been issued and they've been entered into NCIC [National Crime Information Center]."