Access has been a major recurring theme in my shoreline research over the past week. In fact, while the last two shore stories have been very different, they've both touched on the more intangible reasons we need the watershed, and in that, why we need access to the water. Luckily for me on a peninsula, access to the watershed is never far away. And for many of us who are fortunate, when the rivers are calling, we know how to find them. But with the overwhelming majority of shorelines being privately owned (Chesapeake conservancy puts the number at a jaw-dropping 98% of the shores) we unfortunately can't all find a place where and when we want to go. Simply put, we can't go places if we don't know how to get there. Which I think is one of the reasons Sandy Point is so popular.
When I got to Sandy Point I realized that I'd only been there one other time. For me on the Southern Maryland peninsula, Sandy Point is an hour and a half away, while the oceans are 3 hours. And we've got smaller Chesapeake beaches within 20 minutes in three directions. So in the past, if we were going to make a trek to the beach, we were going all in to the ocean.
That said, I think it holds that "nothing close comes close" sort of status in the area. For when you want to hit the beach but don't want to spend the extra 90 minutes to make it to the ocean. If Family Feud polled 1000 people to name a public beach on the Chesapeake, I'd be willing to bet that Sandy Point would be the number one answer. At least if you're in Maryland.
But it also has that "gotta make it over the bridge before traffic hits" kind of status. Which keeps us from stopping every time we head that direction. The irony comes from sitting in traffic ON the bridge thinking about how I'd rather be sitting on that wide sandy beach. But as soon as I start moving, there's no way I'm stopping! So long story short, it has a pretty unique situation being almost dead center in the Maryland watershed and also dead center in Maryland transit arteries. Which combine to make it a very popular destination.
It's not a very big park though. Comparatively to the other most popular state parks (Gunpowder Falls, Patapsco), it's a small fraction of their size. And the beach doesn't stretch for miles like Assateague. But it still boasts similar numbers. Visiting the park on a cold morning in early March was no indicator of what this beach was meant to handle. I could tell by the picnic tables.
I walked the southern shore of the beach towards the bridge itself, and I stopped to try and count the picnic tables on my way down. The highest I got was 94, but I lost count twice and eventually gave up. There were still plenty to count along the coveted tree line tables. They'll be hot commodities this summer I'm sure, seeing as most of the tables are out in the open. I made my way along the northern part of the shore towards the light and tried to count the tables in that area as well. I got to 87 and again gave up hope. I took photos to try and count, but I haven't been able to figure it out. A conservative estimate would be well over 200 picnic tables.
It struck me that these tables are here for a reason. Keep in mind, this is a state park with parking lot zones. This is a park that swells. At a park where the main activities involve sitting and soaking up the scenery, these tables were proliferating to meet a need. Imagine an average of 6 people per table, not to mention the visitors who stay at the beach with no table. They're also all in differing states of wear and tear, some clearly being added or resurfaced very recently. I imagine there's a ranger who's primary duty is picnic table upkeep.
Sandy Point is a park that gives. It's like a restaurant with no menu, but everyone goes for the same thing. And it's all there at one table. And so, so reasonable. While there are some short walking trails, a playground and other park amenities, You can look at all this around you and tell that this is a place that provides one thing above all. It provides access to the Chesapeake for over 1 million people a year. It presents the watershed and allows you to take it in with a sort of passive appreciation. The lighthouse, the bridge, the beach, the water. All there to soak in at a picnic table with friends. All you need to complete the puzzle is a bushel of crabs. Or maybe oysters if it's still March.