Two decades after he successfully lobbied to turn the old U.S. 50 bridge over the Choptank River into a fishing pier, Bill Burton was honored Wednesday when the state named the popular site after him.
At the urging of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Department of Natural Resources, the Board of Public Works approved the measure Wednesday by a unanimous vote.
"It overwhelms me to think that they think enough of me to do that," said Burton, 82. "There's a hell of a lot of pride in that."
The Board of Public Works also voted Wednesday to rename the Overlook at Green Ridge State Forest after longtime DNR forester Francis Zumbrun.
"This is a well-deserved recognition for two iconic figures in Maryland's outdoor history," O'Malley said in a statement. "Their extraordinary service in chronicling and championing our state's natural resources will forever be commemorated in these projects, inspiring families to get outside and enjoy all the unique outdoor recreation opportunities Maryland has to offer."
The lighted pier, open year-round, is an important public access point on the Eastern Shore for thousands of anglers who don't have boats or private piers.
"It's a great location for families to come. It's a stable platform that allows anglers to get way out in the river and fish for a wide variety of species," said Tom O'Connell, state Fisheries Service director.
Using his column as a platform, Burton lobbied to save the structure, which opened in 1935 and spanned the river between Dorchester and Talbot counties, after a new bridge was built in 1986.
Bowing to public sentiment, the state removed the drawbridge section of the old bridge and left the two pieces as platforms from which anglers could fish for white perch, striped bass, spot and croakers. The pier also is used by walkers, crabbers and bird watchers.
"This is a treasure. It would cost you a fortune to build it, and we already had it," said Burton, adding that he would like to see the pier become the centerpiece for a renewed effort by the state to attract children to the sport of fishing.
Burton spent 37 years as The Evening Sun's outdoors editor and was named an Admiral of the Chesapeake by Gov. J. Millard Tawes. After Burton retired, he began a second career as a columnist at the Bay Weekly and The Capital in Annapolis that lasted 13 years. In April, he was inducted into the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association Hall of Fame.
"If you have something to do tomorrow, you probably won't die today," said Burton, explaining his long career in print, radio and television.
"Bill Burton is an icon in Maryland fishing," O'Connell said. "Being able to access the articles he wrote and listen to him on the radio and watch him on TV inspired a lot of youngsters to go out and get hooked on fishing."