When Cathy Samaras was 14 in 1958 she was finally old enough to work at Beverly Beach on the Mayo Peninsula right down the block from the house she lived in with her grandparents.
“Everybody that grew up there worked at the beach,” Samaras said. “I worked in the bingo room making change.”
While nearby residents crowded onto the beach in the summer months, waved bingo cards and ran from jellyfish, a whole population living down the street didn’t get to partake in the fun.
Maryland was still a segregated state at that time. While there was a Black church at the end of her street and a Black community very nearby, she rarely interacted with people of color. The only Black person she knew well was her housekeeper. Her school, Annapolis High School, was still segregated and Beverly Beach did not allow Black people or Jews. Even her husband George Samaras, who was Greek, was turned away from the beach due to his ethnicity, she said.
“We didn’t know any better,” Cathy Samaras said.
Once segregation ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the owner of the beach, Edgar Kalb, chose to close in 1968 rather than integrate it. After sitting closed to the public since then, the county has spent the past five years and around $6 million working to reopen part of the beach and make it, for the first time, truly public, said County Executive Steuart Pittman’s spokesperson, Renesha Alphonso.
While a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Beverly Triton Beach last month to show off the new improvements, the official opening has been delayed due to supply chain setbacks, said Karen Jarboe superintendent for Mayo Peninsula parks with the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
The original goal was to have the nature park ready and open by November 2022, but pandemic-driven supply chain roadblocks delayed construction, Jarboe said. The county chose to host the celebration in May anyway to align with the schedule of former recreation and parks director Rick Anthony, who led the department from 2010 to 2021 and was instrumental in reopening the park. The new park’s new pavilion is named after him. .
“The only thing that’s left to be finished is the restrooms,” Jarboe said. “We’re hoping [they will be done] by the end of June.”
The restrooms need to be completed before residents are officially allowed to swim there, Jarboe said, though that hasn’t stopped people from taking an unsanctioned dip. The county is required to get a permit from the health department. The water is tested by the county’s health department on a weekly basis, said spokesperson Megan Pringle.
Most of the rest of the improvements are complete including the pavilion, a new parking lot, a play area for kids, outdoor showers and a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier.
Decades ago, there were plans to turn the larger beachfront, of which the reopened piece is a chunk, into condos, a golf course and a marina but the plan never materialized. In 1985, the county purchased the land, under the leadership of then-Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer, to save it from development.
In 2013, the region’s Water Access Committee persuaded former County Executive Laura Neuman to open the gates to the beach, said committee Chair Lisa Arrasmith. Through subsequent county leaders, the process of opening the beach to the public for swimming and enjoyment was slowed by pushback from nearby residents.
“For decades it was their de facto private park,” Arrasmith said.
Part of reason for the protest and delays may have been the neighbors’ ability to lease part of the beach for $1 a year from 1986 through 2019. Because the county bought the beach with money from the state’s Program Open Space, which is designed only for purchasing land for the public, the Department of Natural Resources forced the county to end the lease.
Opening up water access in Anne Arundel has been a longtime mission of Arrasmith and her activist group, who have fought for public access to 10 waterfront parks over the past 10 years. The parks include Solley Cove Park, Weinberg Park, Beachwood Park, Spriggs Farm Park, Homeport Farm Park, South River Farm Park, Mayo Beach Park, Jack Creek Park and Franklin Point State Park in addition to Beverly Triton.
Of those, she said, Beverly Triton was the hardest to open because of the lease the county had with the neighbors.
Arrasmith and those in the Department of Recreation and Parks agree the biggest obstacle to opening waterfront spaces to the public is neighborhood opposition.
“I was kind of tasked with balancing that public access and community concerns,” Anthony said. “Most of our affluent neighborhoods were on beach peninsulas so a lot of the communities were concerned about the traffic.”
Anthony said his task and the task of Jessica Leys, who took over as director after Anthony, was to assure the community that the park could be opened without deeply affecting their lives and to ensure that as many of their concerns were resolved as possible.
Even in his new role as recreation and parks director in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, Anthony notices wealthier residents tend to have an outsized influence on local government.
“Look around and see some of these very nice communities in and out of Anne Arundel County and take a pretty good guess that those were the influencers, the people that helped contribute to policy to protect their turf,” Anthony said.
Once Beverly Triton is completely open, it will be one of only a handful of beaches where residents can swim in Anne Arundel County. Water access advocates say there is still a long way to go to ensure all residents have access to the natural jewels in the county in which they pay taxes. Arrasmith noted there is no funding for water access in the county executive’s proposed fiscal 2024 budget.
When Samaras heard about the ribbon-cutting at Beverly Triton she excitedly drove down to her old neighborhood to see the enhancements. But all she saw was a latent waterfront parcel, a shell of the thriving summer locale where she once worked.
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“It was a shame to me to see the beach from the bay up close and personal and not be able to tell what it was,” Samaras said.
Though the new nature park is called Beverly Triton, it only includes what Samaras knew as a child as Triton Beach. That was an overflow spot of sorts for the highly popular Beverly Beach, which remains unchanged.
Jarboe explained Beverly Beach was not part of the project due to potential issues with cutting down trees, management issues and resident complaints.
“It’s kind of a hot-button issue,” Jarboe said. “There’s a lot of pushback against it, honestly, from the community.”
While having another place to be able to swim in the future will be valuable, it was disappointing for Samaras to find only a fraction of the beach she enjoyed as a teen open to the public.
“It’s frustrating to see,” she said.