The sand felt mighty fine at Miami Beach yesterday - warmed by the 85-degree temperatures, scented from the salty tide. A toddler waded in and giggled with delight. Nearby, a couple sunbathed in beach chairs and two boys smoothed out the foundation of a sand castle.
The Memorial Day trip was all the more perfect for Terri Wheeler of Baltimore because it was made spur-of-the moment, in less than 30 minutes.
"I woke up this morning, and the sun is shining. I thought, 'Let's just go,' " says Wheeler, whose nearly 3-year-old daughter is known to go along with such impulses.
This Miami Beach, located on the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Baltimore County, reopened yesterday after being closed for seven years because of concerns about water quality.
The public beach drew a small crowd yesterday, but with gas hovering at $4 a gallon, local officials are predicting the county's eastern shore will become an increasingly popular alternative to the better-known Eastern Shore.
"Through the years, the county beaches were probably used less because the bridge and Route 50 improvements made access to Ocean City easier," says Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, who has fond childhood memories of the old Bayshore Park. "But I think with the price of gas and the cost of travel, we'll see more people using these resources."
At the tip of the Bowleys Quarters peninsula, Miami Beach is one of three county-operated swimming spots. Nearby is Rocky Point Beach and Park. And in northern Baltimore County, there's Oregon Ridge beach.
Of the three, Miami Beach is the least-known, Bartenfelder says. "When I talk about Miami Beach, I still have people think I'm talking about the one in Florida."
In addition to its slightly remote location, the beach had been closed for swimming since August 2000 because water quality tests had routinely been questionable or unacceptable by federal standards, according to county officials.
High levels of fecal coliform bacteria were detected in the shallow water.
Some of the problem was attributed to large gatherings of waterfowl attracted by a local woman who was feeding the geese, said Bill Clarke, a manager with the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.
In 2002, the county finished connecting homes on the peninsula to the county's sanitary sewer system to replace the failing septic systems of some houses.
But the biggest change was in the federal standards for testing the safety of the water, said Clarke.
The new tests required by the Environmental Protection Agency are considered more accurate, he said. The results also come back more quickly, and the guidelines allow local officials to adjust their recommendations to swimmers based on circumstances, Clarke said.
"I'd have no problem swimming there," he said.
Even though the beach was closed to swimming, fifth-graders in public schools have been visiting the park over the past several years as part of their environmental science studies, said Pat McGregor, a manager at the county's Parks and Recreation Department.
McGregor said about 7,000 people visited the beach every year before it was closed for swimming.
Cathy Metz, who lives in the Dundalk area, was one of them.
"It's a little getaway," she said, her husband, son and son's girlfriend at her side.
And, she said, "It looks a lot better."
Until the cleanup began for this season's opening, the beach had been covered with debris. The picnic tables were rotting and the bathhouse was covered in mold, said Mike Vivirito, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association.
"It got to be so bad," he said. "This park is an integral part of our community."
The beach will be open weekends until public schools close for the summer. After June 13, the beach will be open for swimming Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $3 for children age 11 and under, $4 for seniors and $7 for adults on weekends ($6 for adults on weekdays).