Focus On Talbot: A Strange Fact by Dan Watson

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Talbot County has over 600 miles of shoreline but operates nary a single public beach. That’s not something one thinks about, we just take it for granted…but is it really the natural state of things?

Decades ago it was common for people—kids especially–to swim and wade in the rivers and bays of Talbot County. It’s summer in Maryland after all: hot and humid. Some way to cool off is what’s needed. We may not have had Tolchester or Betterton, but old photos in the CBMM and the Talbot Historical Society’s collections show that folks did enjoy the water right outside the door. All those stories we hear word-of-mouth from “born here’s” about soft crabbing in grasses on the shoreline, about seeing the bottom 5 feet down—those anecdotes are from people who recall being in the water when they were kids. But today, not so much.

The only thing that qualifies as an actual public beach is the Strand in Oxford, maintained (and perhaps soon to be improved!) by the Town of Oxford. Question #4 on the County’s tourism website is this: Where are the Beaches? And here is the rather sad reply: “Talbot County is on the Bay side, which means we have very few beaches. There’s a small strip of sand on The Strand in Oxford and at the public park, and there’s a small riverfront beach at Bill Burton Pier State Park in Trappe.”

I haven’t figured out why “being on the Bay side” means no beaches, and I suspect visitors to the website would be puzzled too.

(I guess having a sandy spot near the north end of the fishing pier technically qualifies, though it is State property. But I’m not the only one who’s never heard of it: a very high County official did not know about it either, and the only reference to it I could find is quoted above. But right across the Choptank sits Dorchester’s very nice Sailwinds Park.)

The Talbot County Parks and Recreation Department lists fifteen parks that it operates, but not one includes swimming or wading in the description of activities offered. It operates twenty-five public landings for recreational and commercial boaters, but none of those include swimming—understandably so, as the functions certainly would be in conflict. However, the County does operate two public swimming pools–as would most any landlocked community in say central Kansas.

We all know why beaches are not part of our community landscape: no demand, because the waters are so uninviting. Though often over-stated, the water just seems “dirty” due to the overload of sediment and especially nutrients that feed unnatural levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton that combine for a murky brown color, sometimes like weak coffee. No wonder lots of folks—and the County—have gone the route of swimming pools, notwithstanding the 600 miles of shoreline at our doorstep.

Still, kids (and a few adults) do occasionally go swimming off the docks, and there are a handful of sandy spots along the rivers where boats might pull in for an unauthorized dip. And kids tubing or taking sailing lessons at our yacht clubs are in the water too. So, people do want to know whether or not our waters are actually polluted—that is, unsafe for swimming due to bacteriological contamination from septic systems or other sources. The next “Focus on Talbot” column will provide details on that issue, and just how parents (and grandparents!) can find out about the current health of our local waters as it changes week to week.

It is simply not natural that a community on the water, a community completely intertwined with the water, does not feel comfortable swimming and wading there. Very many of us—both individuals and organizations like ShoreRivers and CBF–are working hard for the day when our waters are considerably cleaner, so much so that a swim in the River seems a great idea on a hot day in Talbot. Come join the effort!

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

Letters to Editor

  1. Alan Boisvert says

    Yes, 600 miles of shoreline, 95% owned by the 1%, how grand!! A public beach would be a real nice asset for Talbot. Perhaps one of those 1%’ers could spare a few waterfront acres for the rest of Talbots inhabitants to enjoy. Just more of the great disparity (haves vs have nots) in this great country?

  2. Steve Shimko says

    I agree with Dan that it is simply not natural that a community on the water, a community completely intertwined with the water, does not feel comfortable swimming and wading there.

    While I grew up in Baltimore, we spent a lot of time at my uncle’s place on the “shore”, Stony Creek to be exact. This is a creek on the Western Shore, just south of Curtis Bay. We swam off his pier and the raft he had anchored out beyond the end of the pier. I remember that raft was built on empty beer kegs, and was anchored to a large concrete block on the bottom. First thing we did every spring was to clear out the underwater grasses that had grown in the swimming area over the winter, and try to pick out the occasional bottle that had washed in. I’m sure the waters were cleaner back then (50’s and 60’s), and we never gave any thought to the possibility of ecoli , vibrio, or other pathogens that seem to dominate the news nowadays.

  3. Matt Pluta says

    It’s my understanding that for a beach to be considered a “public beach” under the management of a local authority it would require that authority to 1. staff it with lifeguards, and 2. monitor for bacteria. And from my understanding this requirement has caused local authorities on the shore in most cases to turn a blind eye to the fact that people are swimming at places like The strand, Bill Burton, Sailwinds, etc. because they don’t necessarily want or have the capacity to take on the added management and monitoring requirements. Which is unacceptable in my opinion. And why ShoreRivers has taken it upon themselves to monitor water quality at most of these locations – so our community can have the information they need, to know if it’s safe to cool off in our rivers on a hot day.

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